Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7f7b94f6bd-vvt5l Total loading time: 0.516 Render date: 2022-06-30T08:28:39.029Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Paul, Plutarch and the Problematic Practice of Self-Praise (περιαυτολογία): The Case of Phil 3.2–21*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 June 2014

Peter-Ben Smit*
Faculty of Theology, University of Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1105, 1081 HV Amsterdam, Netherlands. email:


Paul's boasting is often considered to be problematic. This paper explores Pauline boasting from the perspective of Plutarch's views on self-praise. Outlining what kinds of self-praise were and were not acceptable to someone like Plutarch, the paper analyses and positions Paul's boasting in Phil 3 in this context, concluding that, however offensive it may be to modern ears, this boasting was probably less so to the ears of his contemporaries.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



The author is grateful to Mr Philip Whittaker, Haarlem, for proofreading this text and to the members of the Amsterdam New Testament Colloquium for the opportunity to discuss this paper with them. The following title appeared after the completion of the manuscript and could therefore not be considered: M. Kowalski, Transforming Boasting of Self into Boasting in the Lord: The Development of the Pauline Periautologia in 2 Cor 10–13 (Studies in Judaism: Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2013).


1 See for the pertinent texts the list provided by K. C. Donahoe, ‘From Self-Praise to Self-Boasting: Paul's Unmasking of the Conflicting Rhetorico-Linguistic Phenomena in 1 Corinthians’ (PhD diss.; University of St Andrews, 2008; available at:, accessed 29 January 2013) xiv: Rom 2.17, 23; 3.27; 4.2; 5.2, 3, 11; 11.18; 15.17; 1 Cor 1.29, 31; 3.21; 4.7; 5.6; 9.15–16; 13.13; 15.31; 2 Cor 1.12, 14; 5.12; 7.4, 14; 8.24; 9.2–3; 10.8, 13, 15–17; 11.10, 12, 16–18, 21, 30; 12.1, 5, 6, 9; Gal 6.4, 13, 14; Eph 2.9; Phil 1.26; 2.16; 3.3; 1 Thess. 2.19; 2 Thess 1.4; Heb 3.6; Jas 1.9; 3.14; 4.16. See also Betz, H. D., ‘De laude ipsius (Moralia 539A–547F)’, Plutarch's Ethical Writings and Early Christian Literature (ed. Bertz, H. D.; SCHNT 4; Leiden: Brill, 1978) 367–93Google Scholar, at 378, for references to extra-canonical early Christian texts.

2 See e.g. the overview provided by Mitchell, M. M., Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation: An Exegetical Investigation of the Language and Composition of 1 Corinthians (HUT 28; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1991) 5360Google Scholar, as well as the earlier contribution by Holladay, C. R., ‘1 Corinthians 13: Paul as Apostolic Paradigm’, Greeks, Romans, and Christians (ed. Balch, David L., Ferguson, E., Meeks, W. A.; Abraham, FSMalherbe, J.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990) 8098Google Scholar, esp. 85–88, with reference to Plutarch, Epictetus and Seneca. Stendahl, K., The Final Account: Paul's Letter to the Romans (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995) 3Google Scholar offers an outspoken evaluation: ‘Paul was arrogant. But he was so blatantly arrogant that one can somehow cope with it. He was always the greatest: the greatest of sinners, the greatest of apostles, the greatest when it came to speaking in tongues, the greatest at having been persecuted. That is because he wasn't married. Or perhaps that is why he wasn't married. Nobody could stand him – but he was great, and that makes his battle with his weakness so moving on quite a personal level.’ See also the comments of Hawthorne, G. F., Philippians (WBC 43; Waco: Word, 1983) 159Google Scholar on Paul's boasting in Phil 3: ‘In this statement Paul does not intend to say that he is better than anyone else’, or at 161: ‘Paul's instruction … appears on the surface to be an expression of intolerable conceit.’ With a sense for understatement Williams, D. K., Enemies of the Cross of Christ: The Terminology of the Cross and Conflict in Philippians (JSNTSup 223; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002) 166Google Scholar paraphrases Callan's, Terrence findings (‘Competition and Boasting: Towards a Psychological Portrait of Paul’, ST 40 (1986) 137–56Google Scholar), by stating that ‘Paul was quite a competitor’. For an overview of the function of autobiography in general, see Lyons, G., Pauline Autobiography: Toward a New Understanding (SBL.MS 73; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1985) 169Google Scholar.

3 This is the communis opinion; for a brief review, see e.g. Forbes, C., ‘Comparison, Self-Praise, and Irony: Paul's Boasting and the Conventions of Hellenistic Rhetoric’, NTS 32 (1986) 130CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 8–10. For a very substantial and well-documented overview of the discourse on self-praise, see Pernot, L., ‘Periautologia, problèmes et méthodes de l’éloge de soi-même dans la tradition éthique et rhétorique gréco-romaine’, Revue des Études Grecques 111 (1998) 101–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 The more recent suggestion of Standhartinger, Angela (‘“Join in Imitating Me” (Philippians 3.17): Towards an Interpretation of Philippians 3’, NTS 54 (2008) 417–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar) that Phil 3.1–21 represents parts of Paul's testamentary statement (conceived either as a speech or as a letter), ‘smuggled out of prison’ (431) and subsequently integrated into what is now the canonical Philippians, has the advantage that it links Phil 3 more closely to Hellenistic Judaism, but at the same time the major disadvantage that it does not only introduce many additional hypotheses, but also seems to be superfluous when considering Phil 3 in the light of the possibilities that Hellenistic rhetoric offered in general. Also commentaries such as Schenk, W., Die Philipperbriefe des Paulus (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1984)Google Scholar and Reumann, J., Philippians (AB 33B; New Haven: Yale University, 2008)Google Scholar take the view that Philippians is best understood as a combination of multiple earlier texts. Here, the widely accepted proposal of Alexander is followed; see: Alexander, L. C., ‘Hellenistic Letter-Forms and the Structure of Philippians’, JSNT 37 (1989) 87101Google Scholar.

5 This also applies to the relatively recent contribution of Wojciechowski, Michael, ‘Paul and Plutarch on Boasting’, JGRChJ 3 (2006) 99109Google Scholar, who, while rightly pointing out that more attention for Plutarch is needed, hardly touches on Phil 3.

6 See e.g. Mitchell, Paul, 46–7.

7 See Windisch, H., Der zweite Korintherbrief (ed. Strecker, G.; KEK; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1970 9 [1924])Google Scholar, esp. his judgement on the matter (in view of 2 Cor 11–12) at 345: ‘Paulus teilt durchaus die Anschauungen Plutarchs und des Griechentums, in dessen Namen Plutarch spricht.’ See Mitchell, M. M., ‘A Patristic Perspective on Pauline περιαυτολογία’, NTS 46 (2001) 354– 71Google Scholar, at 355.

8 See e.g. Gnilka, J., Der Philipperbrief (HThK.NT 10.3; Freiburg: Herder, 1968) 189Google Scholar.

9 Including e.g. Fee, G. D., Paul's Letter to the Philippians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995)Google Scholar, Hawthorne, Philippians, or Hawthorne, G. F. and Martin, R. P., Philippians (WBC 43; Waco: Word, 2004)Google Scholar, expressing puzzlement with the rhetorical moves of Paul at p. 182.

10 See e.g. Aristotle, Rhet. 1.2.3–4; cf. e.g. Quintilian, Inst. 3.8.13, and the discussion by Mitchell, Paul, 45ff. See further also Malherbe, A. J., Moral Exhortation: A Greco-Roman Sourcebook (LEC 4; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986) 135–6Google Scholar; this integration of person and speech was also an important aspect of (later) rabbinic tradition. See on the latter Gerhardsson, B., Memory and Manuscript: Oral Tradition and Written Transmission in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity (Lund: Almquist & Wiksell, 1961)Google Scholar esp. 184, as well as e.g. Ehrensperger, K., Paul and the Dynamics of Power: Communication and Interaction in the Early Christ-Movement (LNTS 325; London: T&T Clark, 2007) 140–1Google Scholar. All of this also applies to letter writers and their self-presentation, as is exemplified by Paul's near-contemporary Seneca in his Epistulae ad Lucillum 106. For Stowers, Stanley K. (‘Friends and Enemies in the Politics of Heaven’, Pauline Theology, vol. i (ed. Bassler, Jouette M.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991) 105121Google Scholar, at 108), this is even a ‘classic case’. See also Williams, Enemies, 103–4.

11 See Betz, ‘Laude’, 367.

12 As is generally recognised; see e.g. Hawthorne, Philippians, 131–4; O'Brien, P. T., The Epistle to the Philippians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 367–8Google Scholar, 381.

13 This is also broadly recognised; see e.g. Hawthorne, Philippians, 135.

14 Klauck, H.-J., Die antike Briefliteratur und das Neue Testament (Paderborn: Schönigh, 1998) 179Google Scholar: ‘Die Rhetorik sollte nicht auf Kosten der Eigenheiten der Briefgattung, zu deren Erfassung die Epistolographie beiträgt, betrieben werden. Eine inflationäre Verwendung des Begriffes “Rhetorik” ist zu vermeiden, seine Reichweite jeweils genau anzugeben und seine Auffächerung auf verschiedene Teilgebiete zu berücksichtigen. Werden diese Grenzen beachtet, kann die Rhetorik selbstverständlich mit großem Nutzen für die Erhellung der Argumentationsstruktur (z.B. durch die Herausarbeitung von Enthymemen, Exempla oder die Zuweisung zu Ethos, Pathos und Logos) und der sprachlichen Gestaltung … von Briefen eingesetzt werden.’

15 See Wojciechowski, ‘Paul’, 101.

16 Wojciechowski, ‘Paul’, 100. Another overview of research is presented by Donahoe, ‘Self-Praise’, xxvii–xxiv, focusing on research on 1 Cor and concluding that a more sophisticated analysis of Paul's ‘boasting’ or ‘self-praise’ is needed, by making use of in-depth knowledge of Greco-Roman rhetorical conventions.

17 As noted by Betz, H. D., Der Apostel Paulus und die sokratische Tradition: Eine exegetische Untersuchung zu seiner ‘Apologie’ 2 Korinther 10–13 (BHT 45; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1972) 75Google Scholar (Windisch’ own analysis is no longer than one page of his commentary; see Windisch, Korintherbrief, 345). For the survey, see Wojciechowski, ‘Paul’, 100–1, reviewing the following contributions: G. Strecker, U. Schnelle, G. Seelig, Neuer Wettstein: Texte zum Neuen Testament aus Griechentum und Hellenismus, vol. ii. Texte zur Briefliteratur und zur Johannesapokalypse, part 1 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1996)Google Scholar, specifically: 85–7, 116–17, 256–68, 413–14, 484–6, 488–9, 496, 504–5, 510, 577–8, 588, noting a lack of substantial reference texts to do with the ancient discourse on self-praise; Betz, Apostel; Judge, E. A., ‘Paul's Boasting in Relation to Contemporary Professional Practice’, AusBR 18 (1968) 3750Google Scholar; Forbes, ‘Comparison’; Glancy, J. A., ‘Boasting of Beatings (2 Corinthians 11.23–25)’, JBL 123 (2004) 99135Google Scholar; Bosch, J. Sánchez, ‘Gloriarse’ segun San Pablo (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1970) 426Google Scholar; Betz, ‘Laude’, esp. 378–81; Watson, D. F., ‘Paul and BoastingPaul in the Greco-Roman World: A Handbook (ed. Sampley, J. P.; Harrisburg: Trinity, 2003) 77100Google Scholar, esp. 79–81, 90–4, 97; and Aejmelaeus, L., ‘Tårebrevet och Plutarkhos: Paulus’ självskryt i “Tårebrevet” (2.Kor. 10–13) jämfört med Plutarkhos’ regler för det rätta sättet att berömma sig själv’, Teologinen Aikakauskirja 101.2 (1996) 108–18Google Scholar. Wojciechowski is unaware, however of Donahoe, ‘Self-Praise’, and Bianchini, F., L'elogio di sé in Crist: l'utilizzo della περιαυτολογία nel contexto di Filippesi 3,1–4,1 (AB 164; Rome: Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 2006)Google Scholar, who also presented his argument in id., ‘Paul: Who was He? In Search of the Apostle's Identity’, International Seminar on Saint Paul (Rome: Society of Saint Paul – The General House 2009, available at: 21–48, at 39 (also published as Alla ricerca dell'identità dell'apostolo Paolo’, Rivista biblica 57 (2009) 4369Google Scholar).

18 See Mitchell, ‘Perspective’. One may note, however, that even if John Chrysostom can indeed fit his hero Paul's rhetoric, especially in 2 Cor, into the categories for inoffensive self-praise given by Plutarch, his doing so also indicates that other, less charitable, readings of Paul's boasting would be possible. In fact, the observation that John Chrysostom, a highly sympathetic interpreter of Paul who himself had a considerable stake in a positive reception of the apostle and his writings, takes great trouble to fit Paul's self-praise into (probably generally accepted) Plutarchian categories should make one suspicious as to the extent to which this is indeed possible. It is noteworthy, though, that Chrysostom's categories are so akin to Plutarch's, which is, however, a topic different from the one pursued in this study. See, however, Mitchell, ‘Perspective’, 358: ‘In speaking about Paul's self-praise Chrysostom employs a cultural stock of terms and topoi about boasting which are completely familiar from Plutarch.’

19 Hence, the question will not be whether Paul agrees with the Greco-Roman precepts with regard to self-praise, as was e.g. Windisch’ concern, but specifically how he related, in Phil 3, to what would become the Plutarchian view of things. That there were differences between Plutarch on the one hand and (Latin) authors of textbooks on rhetoric such as Cicero (De inventione), Quintilian (Institutio oratoria) and the Rhetorica ad Herennium is demonstrated by Donahoe, ‘Self-Praise’, who concludes her survey and comparison of these four by stating: ‘Similar to Plutarch, these three rhetoricians [i.e. the Cicero, Quintilian and the author of Rhet. Her.] emphasize the character of the individual who praises himself and the circumstances that lead him to praise himself. They contend that self-praise must always be free of arrogance and maintain that self-praise is acceptable in cases of self-defense. They differ from Plutarch, however, by focusing more on earning the audience's goodwill through the use of self-praise and, with the exception of Quintilian, by commenting less on the negative reception of self-praise’ (Donahoe, ‘Self-Praise’, 21).

20 As e.g. Wojciechowski, ‘Paul’, does.

21 See Betz, ‘Laude’, 367. The text that is followed here is: Ph. de Lacy, H. and Einarson, B., Plutarch's Moralia, vol. vii (Harvard: Harvard University, 1959) 110–67Google Scholar; see also Klaerr, R. and Vernière, Y., Plutarque: Oeuvres morales, vol. vii.2 (Paris: Budé, 1974) 5785Google Scholar, 187–94.

22 For this approach, see e.g. Bianchini, L'elogio. It aligns itself with approaches that focus on the (possible) reception of New Testament writings in certain contexts; see e.g. van Tilborg, S., Reading John in Ephesus (NTSup 83; Leiden: Brill, 1997)Google Scholar, as well as Oakes, P., ‘Jason and Penelope Hear Philippians 1.1–11’, Understanding, Studying and Reading: New Testament Essays in Honour of John Ashton (ed. Rowland, C. and Fletcher-Louis, C. H.T.; JSNTSup 153; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998) 155–64Google Scholar.

23 In this way, a contemporary, albeit admittedly hypothetical, but nevertheless illuminating, parallel is created to Mitchell's study of Paul's self-praise by later patristic authors. See Mitchell, ‘Perspective’. See also e.g. Bianchini, L'Elegio, 58–61. A further case study could be undertaken by looking at Paul's usage of self-praise from the perspective of early Jewish literature and the LXX/Tenakh, in which Paul himself was steeped, and part of his audience as well. See for a brief overview of some pertinent passages, see e.g. Wojciechowski, ‘Paul’, 109–10; for a discussion of esp. Jer. 9.22–23 LXX as an intertext, see Donahoe, ‘Self-Praise’, 82–6.

24 See De Lacy and Einarson, ‘Introduction’, iidem, Moralia, 110–13, at 113. For an overview of the rhetorical architecture of the work, see Betz, ‘Laude’, 367–72.

25 See Betz, ‘Laude’, 367.

26 See also Betz, ‘Laude’, 373: ‘although there is general agreement in the Greco-Roman culture that self-praise is to be rejected, great poets like Euripides, Pindar and Timotheus unashamedly indulge in it’. See for the following esp. Betz, ‘Laude’, and Donahoe, ‘Self-Praise’, 2–17, who offers an excellent overview of Plutarch's argument. For the broader discourse, see Wojciechowski, ‘Paul’; Forbes, ‘Comparison’; and Pernot, ‘Periautologia’.

27 In fact, throughout his treatise, Plutarch can be seen to draw on religious, ethical and rhetorical objections to self-praise. See e.g. Betz, ‘Laude’, 373–7 – though it must be agreed with Donahoe, ‘Self-Praise’, 5 n. 5, that Betz overstates the importance of the religious aspect (protest against self-deification); besides, the us of the term ‘religious’ as a heuristic category for the analysis of first- or second-century texts would need some further qualification.

28 πρῶτον μὲν γὰρ ἀναισχύντους ἡγούμεθα τοὺς ἑαυτοὺς ἐπαινοῦντας, αἰδεῖσθαι προσῆκον αὐτοῖς κἂν ὑπ’ ἄλλων ἐπαινῶνται· δεύτερον δε ἀδίκους, ἃ λαμβάνειν ἔδει παρ’ ἑτέρων, αὐτοὺς αὑτοῖς διδόντας τρίτον ἢ σιωπῶντες ἄχθεσθαι καὶ φθονεῖν δοκοῦμεν, ἢ τοῦτο δεδοικότες ἀναγκαζόμεθα συνεφάπτεσθαι παρὰ γνώμην τῶν ἐπαίνων καὶ συνεπιμαρτυρεῖν, πρᾶγμα κολακείᾳ μᾶλλον ἀνελευθέρῳ προσῆκον ἢ τιμῇ τὸ ἐπαινεῖν παρόντας ὑπομένοντες.

29 See e.g. Betz, ‘Laude’, 377.

30 Betz, ‘Laude’, 377.

31 καιροῦ καὶ πράξεως ἀπαιτούσης ὡς περὶ ἄλλου τι λεχθῆναι καὶ περὶ αὑτοῦ τῶν ἀληθῶν·μάλιστα δἑ ὅταν ᾖ τὰ πεπραγμένα καὶ προσόντα χρηστὰ μὴ φεισάμενον εἰπεῖν διαπράξασθαί τι τῶν ὁμοίων.

32 αὑτὸν δἑ ἐπαινεῖν ἀμέμπτως ἔστι πρῶτον μέν, ἂν ἀπολογούμενος τοῦτο ποιῇς πρὸς διαβολὴν ἢ κατηγορίαν. And he continues: ‘For not only is there nothing puffed up, vainglorious, or proud in taking a high tone about oneself at such a moment, but it displays as well a lofty spirit and greatness of character, which by refusing to be humbled humbles and overpowers envy. For men no longer think it fit even to pass judgement on such as these, but exult and rejoice and catch the inspiration of the swelling speech, when it is well-founded and true’ (540D).

33 ἂν δὲ πυκτεύοντες ἢ μαχόμενοι διεγείρωσι καὶ ἀνάγωσιν ἑαυτούς, ἐπαινοῦμεν, οὕτως ἀνὴρ ὑπὸ τύχης σφαλλόμενος ἑαυτὸν εἰς ὀρθὸν καθιστὰς καὶ ἀντίπαλον ‘πύκτης ὅπως εἰς χεῖρας’, ἐκ τοῦ ταπεινοῦ καὶ οἰκτροῦ τῇ μεγαλαυχίᾳ μεταφέρων εἰς τὸ γαῦρον καὶ ὑψηλόν, οὐκ ἐπαχθὴς οὐδὲ θρασὺς ἀλλὰ μέγας εἶναι δοκεῖ καὶ ἀήττητος.

34 δέχεται γὰρ ἡ παρρησία, μέρος οὖσα τῆς δικαιολογίας, τὴν μεγαληγορίαν.

35 On the Crown, 101.

36 λανθάνει γὰρ οὕτως ὁ ἀκροατὴς τοῖς ἰδίοις ἐπαίνοις συνυποδυόμενον τὸν τοῦ λέγοντος ἡδέως προσδεχόμενος, καὶ χαίρει μὲν ἐφ’ οἷς κατώρθωσε λεγομένοις, τῷ δὲ χαίρειν εὐθὺς ἕπεται τὸ θαυμάζειν καὶ ἀγαπᾶν δι’ ὃν κατώρθωσεν.

37 ἐπεὶ δὲ τῷ μὲν ἑαυτὸν ἐπαινοῦντι πολεμοῦσιν οἱ πολλοὶ σφόδρα καὶ ἄχθονται, τῷ δὲ ἕτερον οὐχ ὁμοίως, ἀλλὰ καὶ χαίρουσι πολλάκις καὶ συνεπιμαρτυροῦσι προθύμως, εἰώθασιν ἔνιοι τοὺς ταὐτὰ προαιρουμένους καὶ πράττοντας αὐτοῖς καὶ ὅλως ὁμοιοτρόπους ἐπαινοῦντες ἐν καιρῷ συνοικειοῦν καὶ συνεπιστρέφειν πρὸς ἑαυτοὺς τὸν ἀκροατήν· ἐπιγινώσκει γὰρ εὐθὺς ἐν τῷ λέγοντι, κἂν περὶ ἄλλου λέγηται, δι’ ὁμοιότητα τὴν ἀρετὴν τῶν αὐτῶν ἀξίαν ἐπαίνων οὖσαν.

38 ἐπεὶ δὴ τόνδ’ ἄνδρα θεοὶ δαμάσασθαι ἔδωκαν.

39 οὐ μὴν ἀλλὰ καὶ καταπλήξεως ἐνιαχοῦ καὶ συστολῆς ἕνεκα καὶ τοῦ ταπεινῶσαι καὶ λαβεῖν ὑποχείριον τὸν αὐθάδη καὶ ἰταμὸν οὐ χεῖρόν ἐστι κομπάσαι τι περὶ αὑτοῦ καὶ μεγαληγορῆσαι.

40 Fr. 664 Rose.

41 οὐδέν εἶπεν ἀλλ’ ἢ τὸ ὑμᾶς ἐμοῦ στρατηγοῦντος ἐπιτάφιον λόγον μὴ εἰπεῖν ἀλλὰ πάντας ἐν τοῖς πατρῴοις μνήμασι θάπτεσθαι τοὺς ἀποθνῄσκοντας.

42 This nuances somewhat the thesis of Pernot, ‘Periautologia’, 120, that only the benefit of the other, or of the general public, would justify the use of self-praise; at the very least, Plutarch knows of inoffensive and legitimate ways of using self-praise that do not necessarily have to be entirely altruistic in nature.

43 See e.g. Reed, J. T., ‘The Epistle’, Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period 330 bcad 400 (ed. Porter, S. E.; Leiden: Brill, 1997) 171–93Google Scholar, at 172–6. As here the ‘whole’ of Philippians is mentioned, it should be noted that this letter of Paul is considered a literary unity. Space is lacking – obviously – to outline the reasons for this in detail here, but they have been spelled out in: Smit, P.-B., Paradigms of Being in Christ (LNTS; London: T&T Clark, 2013) 3756Google Scholar. To this may be added that an analysis of Phil 3.2–21 with a focus on the Greco-Roman discourse on self-praise is probably closer to the rhetorical setting provided by the situation of competition indicated by Phil 3.2 than an analysis that has as its point of departure Jewish testamentary literature, as has been proposed by Standhartinger, ‘“Join”’.

44 See e.g. Fee, Philippians, 303, with Collange, J.-F., The Epistle of Saint Paul to the Philippians (London: Epworth, 1979) 129Google Scholar; see however Bianchini, ‘Paul’, 39, who argues that Paul seeks to safeguard his own influence over the Philippians. While this is doubtless the case, it is not the case that it would constitute a legitimate reason for the use of self-praise; rather, Paul ought to have had, and certainly presents himself as having, the interest of others on his mind. Bianchini phrases Paul's intention more in line with (e.g.) Plutarch's concerns regarding self-praise at 41–2.

45 See e.g. Gnilka, Philipperbrief, 189; Harnisch, W., ‘Die paulinische Selbstempfehlung als Plädoyer für den Gekreuzigten: Rhetorisch-hermeneutische Erwägungen zu Phil 3’, Das Urchristentum in seiner literarischen Geschichte (ed. Mell, U., Müller, U. B.; BZNW 100; FS Jürgen Becker; Berlin: De Gruyter, 1999) 133–54Google Scholar, at 135.

46 See on this the remarks of O'Brien, Philippians, 452–3. Paul does not mitigate the offensiveness of his self-praise here by pointing to the hypothetical inverse of his own behaviour to legitimise and praise the course of action that he has taken. This would have been another way of using self-praise in an inoffensive way (see Plutarch, Mor. 541F–542A); the ‘dogs’ that Paul uses as a negative foil may well be seen to fulfil the role of exemplifying the alternative to Paul's actions, however.

47 See e.g. the option mentioned by Fee, Philippians, 303.

48 See e.g. Bockmuehl, M., The Epistle to the Philippians (London: Black, 1997) 195Google Scholar: ‘Paul shows how his own Jewish credentials are flawless and superior to theirs – and yet to be disregarded in Christ.’

49 See e.g., with much emphasis, Lohmeyer, E., Die Briefe an die Philipper, Kolosser und an Philemon (KEK; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1953 9) 127Google Scholar; and further Thurston, B. M. and Ryan, J. M., Philippians and Philemon (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2009) 112Google Scholar. On the first person plural in Phil 3.2ff. in general, see e.g. Schenk, Philipperbriefe, 254–5; see also Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 175.

50 Vincent, M. R., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon (ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1922) 113Google Scholar: ‘A more delicate quality is given to the exhortation by Paul's associating himself with his readers.’ See also e.g. Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 211.

51 See e.g. Gnilka, Philipperbrief, 201. See further also e.g. Barth, Brief, 63–64, O'Brien, Philippians, 437.

52 See e.g. O'Brien, Philippians, 433.

53 See also Bianchini, ‘Paul’, 39–40: ‘subdued boast’.

54 Wojciechowski, ‘Paul’, 109.

55 See Wojciechowski, ‘Paul’, 105–8.

56 Glancy, ‘Boasting’, 134.

57 See for this also Smit, P.-B., ‘De voorbeeldige man is queer: Paulus’ mannelijkheid in de brief aan de Filippenzen’, Onder de regenboog: De Bijbel queer gelezen (ed. van Klinken, A. and Pruiksma, N.; Vught: Skandalon, 2010) 153–3Google Scholar; cf. also Donahoe, ‘Self-Praise’, 206–7.

58 This integration seems to take place in a smoother and less controversial way than it is the case in 1 or 2 Corinthians; this might well plead for a later date of Philippians, as Paul gives evidence of a further developed theology of suffering in relationship to a life ‘in Christ’.

59 See e.g. Lohmeyer, Philipper, 147; Hawthorne, Philippians, 161, though not with reference to first-century standards of morality, but rather with implied reference to twentieth-century standards. See also Bockmuehl, Philippians, 195, commenting on vv. 4–8: ‘its purpose is not autobiographical but polemical and paradigmatic’. See also id., op. cit., 224, noting that all that has preceded v. 15 is also paradigmatic. Cf. Gnilka, Philipperbrief, 191, commenting on v. 7, which is part of the example that Paul gives at large: ‘An seiner Entscheidung sollen sie die richtige Entscheidung lernen’ (see further also idem, op. cit., 204). Also O'Brien, Philippians, 447, notes with regard to v. 17: ‘The question has often been raised whether Paul's choice of himself as an example was truly consistent with Christian humility.’ In his own answer to this question, O'Brien notes Paul's deferring to Christ, his denial of perfection, his inclusion of others into his example, and his usage of this example for the benefit of others, but not the relevant rhetorical conventions considered in this paper. See also Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 217.

60 See e.g. Vincent, Philippians, 116.

61 See also Bianchini, ‘Paul’, 39; such a comparison of oneself with others also features emphatically in the work of Plutarch, even if he does not dwell extensively on the σύγκρισις as a rhetorical technique in the context of his discussion of inoffensive self-praise. See, however, Forbes, ‘Comparison’, 2–8.

62 Unless one assumes that the issue of suffering, important as it is in Philippians, also is at the forefront in Phil 3; then, Paul's reference to his own suffering and hoped-for glorification provide a source of encouragement as well. See also Fee, Philippians, 351, who argues that Paul offers himself as an example to the Philippians in order to help them to be steadfast.

63 See also e.g. O'Brien, Philippians, 366: ‘Here at Phil 3 he thought it necessary to set forth his own example … in order to reduce to nothing the efforts of the Judaizers.’

64 These observations also beg the question to what extent these findings have any implications for one's view of Paul's formal knowledge of rhetoric. While it would be tempting to think that what has been presented on these pages indeed points in that direction, it is more prudent to be somewhat more reluctant in that respect and confess agnosticism as to the extent to which Paul is applying formal rhetorical knowledge here. For this, three reasons can be adduced: (i) Plutarch's treatise seems to be a reflection on existing rhetorical practice and on what is generally seen to be acceptable and to ‘work’ and what not; such knowledge based on experience was accessible to all in principle, with or without formal training; in other words: rhetorical conventions can be learned without formal education in them; (ii) Paul's usage of self-praise in Phil 3.2–21 does not make very systematic impression, hence it is doubtful whether he follows a particular theory with regard to it, even if he reflects many of the conventions that Plutarch has collected; (iii) in line with the latter point: apart from his reference to boasting in v. 3, Paul does not give an indication that he is consciously concerned with self-praise in a systematic way here, which should also make one wary of drawing conclusions as to Paul's conscious use of rhetorical tools here – which does not mean that he does not use them!

Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Paul, Plutarch and the Problematic Practice of Self-Praise (περιαυτολογία): The Case of Phil 3.2–21*
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Paul, Plutarch and the Problematic Practice of Self-Praise (περιαυτολογία): The Case of Phil 3.2–21*
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Paul, Plutarch and the Problematic Practice of Self-Praise (περιαυτολογία): The Case of Phil 3.2–21*
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *