This is post 1 of 4 in a series on the emotions in Philippians. It looks forward to the publication of Isaac Blois’ new book in the LNTS series with Bloomsbury T&T Clark: The Role of Emotions in Philippians: Discerning Affections. Join us in this article as Dr. Blois highlights the need for attending to the emotional landscape of Philippians and sets the vision for the forthcoming book:
Recently, I shared a post on the Scriptorium blog in which I drew out the implications of Paul’s radical claim in Philippians 1:21 that, for his own life—and believers would do well to share with him in this perspective—“to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Those reflections were prompted by an invitation to give a chapel message for Biola’s undergraduate students who are working collectively in their chapel schedule through the book of Philippians as a whole. I was delighted to receive that invitation because most of my scholarly career up to this point has been devoted to studying Philippians, with my PhD thesis from St Andrews focused on the theme of mutual boasting in the letter and with various articles and conference papers dealing with other aspects of the letter. I am happy to announce that another opportunity has arisen for me to delve even further into Philippians, with a book proposal being accepted by LNTS for a forthcoming monograph on the role of emotions in Philippians. Along with introducing that book in the this post, I plan to follow up with three more posts each depicting one specific emotion from Philippians (addressing first joy, then shame, and finally fear).
Jonathan Edwards, in his Religious Affections, discusses 1 Peter 1:8-9, defining true religious joy as an experience that
did not corrupt and debase the mind…; but did greatly beautify and dignify it… [which] filled [the Christian’s mind] with the light of God’s glory.
Hence, for one of America’s most distinguished theologians, the experience of joy was not separated from the life of the mind; rather, religious affections engaged the mind, they dignified it and caused it to flourish. The apostle Paul, I would argue, presents in his letter to the Philippians a similar portrayal of the emotion of joy, as one deeply engaged in the process of Christian reasoning, thereby allowing him to promote among his converts not just religious affections, but, what is more, discerning affections. This is precisely what the apostle prays for on behalf of this community at the opening of the letter, praying that their love “might abound yet more and more in knowledge and all insight” with the result that they might “discern the things which truly matter” (Phil 1:9-10). Paul prays—and he also works diligently as a pastor and a teacher toward the end that—his brothers and sisters in Christ might overflow with the emotion of love (ἀγάπη). And yet the hoped-for emotional state of abounding love in them is one that must lead towards greater discernment, one that is tethered to knowledge and insight regarding all things. By starting his letter in this way, the apostle signals to his readers, both ancient and modern, that his vision of the Christian life is holistic, providing scope both for the mind and the body, for our rationality and our emotions. In short, Paul’s vision entails a community that embraces discerning affections.
Colleen Shantz has called attention to the problem of what she terms “cognicentrism” within New Testament studies, arguing that in order to understand Paul’s letters readers must not only attend to the apostle’s “cogitation,” but additionally push beyond that to investigate how Paul’s assertions are informed by “somatic phenomena” and “apprehension [i.e., experience] of union with the risen Christ.” Colleen Shantz, Paul in Ecstasy: The Neurobiology of the Apostle’s Life and Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 29-30. Shantz argues that responsible interpreters must attend to the “emotional, embodied, [and] psychosocial – in short, experiential – contributions to Paul’s thought.” Similarly, Bazzana argues that to understand Paul’s pivotal expression that believers are “in Christ” requires an interpretation that engages with the “emotional and affective tone” it involves, since “Paul uses interchangeably the ἐν Χριστῷ phrase and other even less cognicentric and more affective expressions.” Giovanni B. Bazzana, Having the Spirit of Christ: Spirit Possession and Exorcism in the Early Christ Groups, Synkrisis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020), 107. Mosurinjohn and Ascough present a similar argument for the usage of ἐπιθυμίαν (“desire”) in Phil 1:23, where they advocate an approach to reading Paul that views his language “through affect[,] that is, through forces that compel bodies beyond conscious reasoning and perhaps even beyond conscious experiences of particular emotions.” Sharday C. Mosurinjohn and Richard S. Ascough, “Desiring, Departing, Dying Affectively Speaking: Epithymia in Philippians 1:23,” BCT 15 (2019), 65-88,” here 66. Later in their piece, 75, they … Continue reading
Hence, and following in line with the work of Susan Eastman to uncover within Paul’s anthropology a more “holistic understanding of persons,”  Susan Grove Eastman, Paul and the Person: Reframing Paul’s Anthropology (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017), 180. attention must be paid to the emotional dynamics of life in Christ as a way to bolster what could otherwise be a myopically narrow focus on cognitive components. In this way, Paul’s recognizable emphasis on “mindset” or phronesis in Philippians (most poignantly at 2:5, where believers are directed to “think” [φρονεῖτε] in a way which “is also in Christ,” but see also 1:7; 2:2; 3:15; 4:2, 10) includes not only a rational understanding of the world, but also an embodied way of experiencing that world. Cf. Ellen T. Charry, God and the Art of Happiness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 103, who discusses the renewed mindset to which Paul exhorts his communities as entailing “a notion of rationality … Continue reading As Becker has demonstrated, unavoidably present within the letter is the deep relational connections between writer and recipients, which therefore means that epistolary strategies of rhetoric stand not opposed to emotionality, but rather together they form “synergistic modi” through which Paul the letter-writer can be articulated and visualized as a person among his addressees. E.-M. Becker, “Die Tränen des Paulus (2 Kor 2,4; Phil 3,18): Emotion oder Topos?,” in ders. Der Philipperbrief des Paulus: Vorarbeiten zu einem Kommentar, NET 29 (Tübingen: Narr Francke, 2020), … Continue reading
Katherine Hockey has demonstrated the fruitfulness of interpreting New Testament epistolary literature through the lens of the emotions, highlighting the social and theological ways in which the early Christians to whom 1 Peter is written experienced emotions. Katherine M. Hockey, The Role of Emotion in 1 Peter, SNTS 173 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019). Ian Jew has also shown the benefit of this hermeneutical approach more specifically to Philippians itself. As Jew argues, “in [Paul’s] overarching scheme, emotion plays a substantial role in helping to shape and stabilize key aspects of Christian identity at both the individual and corporate level.” Ian Y. S. Jew, Paul’s Emotional Regime: The Social Function of Emotion in Philippians and 1 Thessalonians, LNTS 629 (London: T&T Clark, 2021), 139. Both Hockey and Jew carry forward the seminal work of Stephen Barton, who has laid the groundwork for understanding how emotions can provide fruitful avenues into understanding Paul’s letters. For Hockey, a key tenet of her approach is that emotions are themselves cognitive. Hockey, Emotion in 1 Peter, 9. She gestures to Steven J. Kraftchick’s prior claim, “Πάθη in Paul: The Emotional Logic of Original Argument,” in Paul and Pathos, ed. Thomas H. Olbricht and … Continue reading Barton highlights the need when interpreting Paul for “approaches to human perception and cognition that take seriously the expressive and cognitive resources of the emotions and the realm of the experiential.” Stephen C. Barton, “Eschatology and the Emotions in Early Christianity,” JBL 130 (2011), 571-591, 572.
Inselmann seeks to bring analytic clarity to the study of emotions in the New Testament by categorizing their occurrence in accord with three “parameters: duration, quality, and intensity.” Anke Inselmann, “Emotions and Passions in the New Testament: Methodological Issues,” BibInterp 24
(2016), 536-554, 542. She helpfully distinguishes between an emotion that “(a) represents just a short-term affective outburst, a quickly changing inner state; (b) a mood or a frame of mind; or (c) a permanent behavior, possibly even a personality trait.” Inselmann, “Emotions,” 542. Ultimately, Inselmann seeks to responsibly draw on modern psychological presentations of the emotions, where she especially calls attention to “the contextualizing branch of emotional psychology” that is interested primarily in the “learnability” of emotions.” One such modern approach, that of functional psychology, “assumes that emotions are embedded in very complex courses of assessment…of events,” which assessment entails that emotions have a recognizable “cognitive aspect.” Insofar as emotions are regarded as “reactions to appraisals, that is, to processes of assessment,” they thus “serve to regulate [communal] conduct or behavior patterns.” Inselmann, “Emotions,” 548. Inselmann draws especially on the work of cognitive psychologist Richard Lazarus.
It will be the purpose of my forthcoming book with LNTS to carry forward the approach laid out by Hockey, Jew, Barton, Inselmann, and others by investigating Paul’s letter to the Philippians with attention paid to specific emotions that emerge from the texture of the epistle. Each of the emotions covered could demonstrate individually the fruitfulness of such an affect-oriented approach, but when placed alongside each other it will be undeniable that Paul indeed sought to use emotion as a way to display life in Christ and to motivate and guide such a way of faithful living in accord with the gospel. Paul’s own emotions, along with the emotions experienced by others within the Pauline network of co-workers and communities, together with the emotions to which he either directs or from which he deters his auditors, create a rich tapestry of not just what life in Christ means, but how it feels. Both the emotions that are to be cultivated and those that are to be cast aside demonstrate a holistic display of the “true” life lived “for [God’s] good pleasure” (Phil 2:12). Hence, my investigation will be arranged in two parts, first addressing those emotions traditionally held to be “positive” (joy, pride, hope), and then shifting to analyze those emotions traditionally held to be “negative” (grief, shame, fear). Each chapter will focus specifically on one emotion (though, at times discussion will overlap with other emotions as they come up in the various close readings of passages from Philippians), developing an understanding of that emotion from within the Greek and Roman culture of first-century Philippi, within Paul’s arguably Scriptural context, and finally within the literary context of the letter itself. Ultimately, by garnering together the various emotions that arise throughout the letter, the life in Christ presented by the apostle will richly emerge as a holistic experience, which includes both patterns of belief and discerning affections.
|↑1||Colleen Shantz, Paul in Ecstasy: The Neurobiology of the Apostle’s Life and Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 29-30.|
|↑2||Giovanni B. Bazzana, Having the Spirit of Christ: Spirit Possession and Exorcism in the Early Christ Groups, Synkrisis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020), 107.|
|↑3||Sharday C. Mosurinjohn and Richard S. Ascough, “Desiring, Departing, Dying Affectively Speaking: Epithymia in Philippians 1:23,” BCT 15 (2019), 65-88,” here 66. Later in their piece, 75, they highlight the importance of grasping Paul’s use of “desire” in Phil 1:23 as a way to frame his presentation of emotions at other spots in the letter on account of epithymia’s distinction from those other emotions: “desire is not best thought of as an affect, on the model of theorists who treat ‘affects’ and ‘emotions’ as synonymous.” Rather, “the concept of ‘desire’ has a decidedly non-rational basis, unlike the emotions which require thinking and judgement in order to be understood. Desire has a constitutively ambiguous epistemological status.”|
|↑4||Susan Grove Eastman, Paul and the Person: Reframing Paul’s Anthropology (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017), 180.|
|↑5||Cf. Ellen T. Charry, God and the Art of Happiness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 103, who discusses the renewed mindset to which Paul exhorts his communities as entailing “a notion of rationality that embraces the emotions as integral to the process of discernment and moral deliberation.”|
|↑6||E.-M. Becker, “Die Tränen des Paulus (2 Kor 2,4; Phil 3,18): Emotion oder Topos?,” in ders. Der Philipperbrief des Paulus: Vorarbeiten zu einem Kommentar, NET 29 (Tübingen: Narr Francke, 2020), 283-300, 296.|
|↑7||Katherine M. Hockey, The Role of Emotion in 1 Peter, SNTS 173 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).|
|↑8||Ian Y. S. Jew, Paul’s Emotional Regime: The Social Function of Emotion in Philippians and 1 Thessalonians, LNTS 629 (London: T&T Clark, 2021), 139.|
|↑9||Hockey, Emotion in 1 Peter, 9. She gestures to Steven J. Kraftchick’s prior claim, “Πάθη in Paul: The Emotional Logic of Original Argument,” in Paul and Pathos, ed. Thomas H. Olbricht and Jerry L. Sumney, SBLSymp 16 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2001), 39-70, 45, that “emotions are part of the rational process,” though she then takes this a step further to argue that they amount to cognition itself.|
|↑10||Stephen C. Barton, “Eschatology and the Emotions in Early Christianity,” JBL 130 (2011), 571-591, 572.|
|↑11||Anke Inselmann, “Emotions and Passions in the New Testament: Methodological Issues,” BibInterp 24|
(2016), 536-554, 542.
|↑12||Inselmann, “Emotions,” 542.|
|↑13||Inselmann, “Emotions,” 548. Inselmann draws especially on the work of cognitive psychologist Richard Lazarus.|