Purity and Danger in Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians: The Sin of Valens in Social Perspective
Abstract

Abstract:

This article seeks to move beyond traditional interpretations of Polycarp's epistle to the Philippians as formulated primarily as a response to the threat of heresy. It argues the letter was written to address the social chaos which resulted from the avarice of the presbyter Valens (11.1-2). First a case is made for understanding the charge of avarice against Valens on the basis of biblical and extra-canonical evidence that shows that well-to-do patrons enjoyed leadership positions in early Christian communities. There follows an analysis of metaphors Polycarp uses to describe the dangers of love of money. A literary background is provided for his appraisal by comparing these metaphors with various pagan and Jewish estimations of the dangers of greed. Polycarp's assessment echoes Jewish apocalyptic concerns and reveals a sectarian interest with group purity. Finally the investigation moves beyond 11.1-2 to discuss the ethical paraenesis in the rest of the letter: Polycarp's development of a household code, virtue and vice lists, and rhetorical elements which show that the letter belongs to a literary genre of epistolary advice or exhortation. It is argued that the main concern of Polycarp's paraenesis was to promote a purity-preserving and boundary-reinforcing ethos.