Reading a Letter Quoting a Hymn Quoting Scripture: Intertextuality and Persuasion in Phil 2:6-11

The passage in Philippians 2:6-11 has been subjected to detailed scrutiny from a number of perspectives, often focusing on distinct but not ultimately unrelated questions: Is it quoting an already-existing hymn? Is its Christology one of pre-existence? How does the exalted status it attributes to Jesus relate to Jewish monotheism? How do its echoes of Jewish scripture relate to its meaning? This paper seeks to bring these several perspectives on the passage together, asking how the oral delivery of ancient letters would affect hearers’ perception of the meaning of quotations and allusions embedded within them, and as a consequence, how this would impact the persuasiveness or otherwise of the epistle’s argument. The persuasive effect of utilizing authoritative Scripture depended on either agreeing with the meaning of the texts echoed as it would be perceived by the hearer, or otherwise clearly transforming and reinterpreting the texts’ meaning, so as to use them to persuade the audience to draw the new conclusions advocated. The paper seeks to demonstrate that the texts echoed in Philippians 2:6-11 are used in the former rather than the latter manner, and will discuss the implications for our understanding of Pauline Christology.