Christ as the Telos of Life: Moral Philosophy, Athletic Imagery, and the Aim of Philippians
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
I am pursuing the publication of my thesis.
The aim of Paul’s letter to the Philippians has been understood in various ways: e.g. reassurance, consolation, advance of the gospel. This thesis presents a new analysis of Philippians that challenges these proposals and offers a new way of thinking about Paul’s overarching argumentative aim in this letter. After demonstrating the need to examine three areas (viz. moral philosophy, athletics, and vivid speech) in an historical analysis of Philippians and addressing methodological issues pertinent to this investigation (Part I), I turn to map out the historical context relevant for this project (Part II): viz. the broad structure of thought in ancient moral philosophy, ancient athletics and its association with virtue, and the use of vivid description to persuade an audience. The final part of this thesis (Part III) is an exegetical analysis of Philippians that interprets the letter in light of the contextual material discussed in Part II, exploring how this contextual material contributes to and is interrelated in Paul’s persuasive appeal to morally form the Philippian Christians in a particular way. In this analysis I argue that Paul’s pattern of thought in Philippians is structured similarly to the broad structure of thought in ancient moral philosophy, which is oriented toward an ultimate τέλος and views the virtues as necessary in attaining this goal. Paul’s use of athletic language, framing his argument in the letter (1:27–30; 4:3), fills out this perspective on life by presenting the nature of Christian existence in terms of a contest of virtue, which is similar to how moral philosophers used this language. This perspective on life is vividly depicted and summed up in the image of the runner in Phil 3:13–14. As a vivid description this imagery would have had a powerfully persuasive effect and rhetorically plays a significant role in Paul’s argument. With this imagery, Paul is presenting himself as striving toward Christ, the τέλος of life, which entails thinking and living in a particular way to make progress toward this goal—the final attainment of which is complete transformation to become like Christ. It is this vivid description of the runner that encapsulates Paul’s overarching argumentative aim in the letter, persuading the Philippians to pursue Christ as the τέλος of life.
PhD in Theology