Now that I am about halfway through the quarter, I feel that I have a pretty good read on what Philippians resources are out there. So, I (humbly) offer here my favorite books on Philippians. For each category, I have tried to limit it to 2 items. That means that many resources I LOVE will not make the list, but for it to be a helpful list I wanted some restriction.
TOP TECHNICAL COMMENTARY
1. O’Brien (NIGTC)
2. Fee (NICNT)
TOP MODERATE-LENGTH COMMENTARY
1. Bockmuehl (BNTC)
2. Hooker (NIB)
TOP SHORT-LENGTH COMMENTARY
1. Fowl (THNT)
2. Flemming (Beacon)
TOP NON-MODERN COMMENTARY
2. John Chrysostom
MOST ANTICIPATED FUTURE COMMENTARY
1. N.T. Wright (ICC)
2. Paul Holloway (Hermeneia)
MOST USEFUL MONOGRAPHS ON PHILIPPIANS
1. Peter Oakes, Philippians: From People to Letter
2. TIE: Joseph Hellerman, Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi, AND Timothy Geoffrion, The Rhetoric Purpose and the Military and Political Character of Philippians: A Call to Stand Firm.
MOST USEFUL COLLECTION OF ESSAYS ON PHILIPPIANS
1. Martin and Dodd, Where Christology Begins (essay writers include Dunn, Hurtado, Bauckham, Fowl, and more!)
Of course you are encouraged to list your favorite Philippians resources in comments!
Previously I had expressed an interest in blogging my way through G. Walter Hansen’s Philippians commentary (Pillar, Eerdmans). However, many of you will know that you can get the feel for the utility, contribution, and niche of a commentary by reading a selective portion. I intend to read the whole thing (as I am currently teaching a grad exegesis course on Philippians), but I don’t think I will have much to say on an extended basis. So, here are some of my thoughts having worked through slightly more than half.
(1) Hansen is a traditional exegete in the sense that he (a) values historical-critical study of the text with an interest in authorial intent (not surprising and I would be in the same camp), (b) engages in the traditional methods of word studies, and (c) moves from what the text MEANT to what it MEANS to how it can apply to our world today. Again, I am fine with this approach, though many are starting to challenge it from various sectors.
(2) Hansen is a reliable and balanced interpreter. You will not find wild or outlandish theories. That will be of comfort to many who might only turn to one commentary in need of information.
(3) Hansen has a good acquaintance with both Jewish and Greco-Roman texts and culture, such that he offers a balanced discussion of backgrounds, contexts, and social dimensions that affect our reading of Philippians.
This is all good news in the sense that Hansen is worthy of consideration and attention. However, I would add these points as well:
(1) I can’t really say that I would prefer his commentary over O’Brien (for example) except that it is shorter and less technical.
(2) He demonstrates (in my opinion) an over-reliance on BDAG and TDNT (esp. to former). While lexicons and dictionaries are useful, I was astonished by the number of times Hansen seems to have defaulted to the definition of BDAG. I am not concerned that Hansen cited BDAG, but when it is referred to or quoted on almost every page, I sense that it was deferred to without much follow-up.
(3) The occasions when Hansen engages in the modern relevance of the text are very insightful, but I feel that overall this is handled unevenly. Some commentary series have a more stream-lined approach, reserving a particular section for “theology” or “application” (e.g., NIVAC, Beacon, even WBC to some degree). When that format structure is not there, it is difficult to achieve balance. Essentially I am saying, “I like what you are saying Hansen, flesh the implications out more, be more explicit about how this effects Christian life and ministry…”
Like many contributions in the Pillar series, I am pleased with the good exegesis found in the commentary with Hansen’s volume on Philippians. It would make a good choice for a commentary to purchase if you don’t already have one. However, if you own O’Brien, I would say that you are not going to find many new insights.
I am testing a new system for reviewing books: see what you think below, comment if you would like.
QUALITY OF INTERPRETATION (how good is the research): 4.5/5
READABILITY (flow, easily comprehensible, format, length): 4.5/5
CREATIVITY (freshness of insight): 3/5
MUST HAVE?: No.
From Eerdmans, Thomas Trapp has done the English-speaking world a favor by translating Martin Hengel’s book Der unterschaetzte Petrus: zwei Studien (Mohr Siebeck) with Saint Peter: The Underestimated Apostle. No doubt, this book is timely, as NT scholars are taking more interest in early reception history of the New Testament and therefore there is a re-evaluating of some long-standing viewpoints, such as the supposed antagonism between Paulinism and Peterism. Markus Bockmuehl, I believe, is also working in this area. Anyway, I am happy to read this slim volume by Hengel, no doubt one of the finest historians of early Christianity of all time.
From Baker, I just picked up Frank Matera’s Romans commentary – a contribution to the new Paideia series. I have done some work with Talbert’s volume on Colossians – a fine textbook. I am eager to see what Matera has to say. I have appreciated his interest in Christology and ethics, and I think Romans is a good place to further work out some of that!
From a rather quick glance (with more to come!), I can see that a lot of work went into this commentary, especially working out charts and figures that clarify the rhetorical flow of the letter. The reader is no doubt regularly reminded of Paul’s intentionality and focused vision in this most magisterial letter.
When I was in seminary (as if it was all that looooong ago…) we used Gordon Fee’s (now classic?) New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors (now in its 3rd edition; WJK). After seminary, I became acquainted with Michael Gorman’s truly excellent Elements of Biblical Exegesis – it covers both OT and NT, has more detailed discussions, contains sample exegesis papers, and an outstanding chapter on theological interpretation of Scripture (worth the price of the book itself!).
So, why did Craig Blomberg decide to pen yet another “handbook” (along with the help of J.F. Markley) called A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis (Baker, 2010)? First, I respect Craig highly as a critical, but well-respected and judicious evangelical scholar. That is reason enough to pick this book up. Second, while there is nothing new per se in the book, the “selling point” is that it is filled with examples of what exegesis looks like- often from the Synoptic Gospels and the book of James – two texts near and dear to Craig I presume.
The ten chapters of the book follow an expected course of exegesis: (1) Textual Criticism, (2) Translation and Translations, (3) Historical-Cultural Context, (4) Literary Context, (5)) Word Studies, (6) Grammar, (7) Interpretive Problems, (8) Outlining, (9) Theology, and (10) Application.
All of these chapters offer fair, basically comprehensive, and well-illustrated (but no pictures!) guides to the various traditional elements of exegesis. All in all, I found it helpful to the uninitiated student, chocked with useful charts and summaries of main points, and a helpful “checklist” for doing exegesis in the appendix. Below I will offer more specific chapter-by-chapter thoughts.
(1) Textual Criticism – not too much to say here, but that Craig offers the kind of basic introduction to the very technical practice of TC in such a way that it is not overwhelming. I appreciate that. Particularly nice is a chart on p. 10 laying out the differences in the text-types (e.g. Alexandrian) and examples.
(2) Translation and Translations – this chapter was quite useful, moving away from discussions of “literal” vs. “non-literal” towards a more helpful taxonomy that looks at “formal” vs. “functional equivalence.” I am not sure I learned much about this in seminary, though I studied it later. It is nice to see it introduced here in a useful way. Again, a nice chart on p. 46. At the end of the chapter he gave an ad hoc paragraph endorsing the 2011 NIV.
(3) Historical-Cultural Context – again, this is straightforward. I did appreciate the inclusion of a section on “Social-Scientific Criticism” as it has been so beneficial to my own interpretation of the NT (and likewise for folks like Stephen Barton, BW3, David deSilva, and Jerome Neyrey). I was a bit disappointed with his treatment of the study of the Greco-Roman world. While there is a dearth of good secondary resources, I would have expected some reference to Aufstieg und Niedergang der roemischen Welt – while a specialized kind of resource, it is comprehensive and written by the best of the best scholars.
(4) Literary Context – I very much appreciated Craig’s thoughts here. Often this is the focus for me as I teach NT exegesis courses because students can find so much without outside resources. In Craig’s own words: “one of the most rewarding parts of personal Bible study can be our own inductive work with the text, even before we consult reference tools or see how scholars have outlined books…” (p. 97). Here also I appreciate his drawing attention to the gains of narrative and rhetorical criticism (alongside more classic areas such as genre analysis and wordplay).
(5) Word Study – handled well, no comment.
(6) Grammar – these kinds of chapters are always difficult to judge because so much could be said and the author is really limited. It was serviceable, but scholars disagree so much on verbal aspect, I don’t know how useful this will be.
(7) Interpretive Problems – this chapter offers Craig the opportunity to say that sometimes you run into big exegetical problems that can’t be “fixed” by appeal to one method. It takes a nuanced and sophisticated approach where the exegetical technician (my term) has to carefully select a variety of relevant tools.
(8) Outlining – I shudder sometimes when I get to these kinds of chapters – so boring and complicated. Craig handled it surprising well. For the life of me, I could not figure out “Discourse Analysis” (or Semantic Structure Analysis) in seminary. I teach my students a very basic form of outlining called “Broad Structure Analysis” that I learned from John Byron. I think it is immensely useful and very organic – not a whole lot of rules. Craig offers various kinds of outlining, more complex than I would have suggested, but not nearly as oppressive as others I have seen.
(9) Theology – again, a good and useful basic overview. He briefly touches on the current interest in “Theological Interpretation of Scripture,” but I felt he was too critical and dismissive of it. This startled me a bit, because Gorman’s treatment is so vivacious, rich, and inspiring. This chapter may be a deal-breaker for me in terms of ever using it as a textbook.
(1) Application – takes a modified approach to a standard “principlizing” technique while cautiously showing appreciation for Webb’s “redemptive” model.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Craig is a good guy to write a handbook because he always demonstrates good exegetical technique in his books, he has earned a reputation as a master interpreter, and he does give some good examples of exegesis. However, there are inevitable weaknesses. First, the case studies are often treated so briefly the discussion can come across as simplistic (not because Craig thinks that way, but simply in the brevity of it). I would rather have technique discussed in the heart of the book, and have the appendix contain extended commentary-like treatments of texts with a more overt pointing out of techniques. Also, Craig is a very conservative interpreter which comes out in the case studies, and there is the potential for alienating a segment of his potential audience by coming down on one side (like on the women-in-ministry issue). That may be a stand he is wanting to stick with (fair enough), but not necessary in this context in my opinion.
Please do take a look at this book in your library if you teach NT exegesis as you may find some things here that are useful for instruction.
I am not sure how old this issue is, but I ran across recently the 4th 2010 issue if Interpretation which follows a common theme on the Gospel of Matthew. Articles including two articles covering Matthew’s Theology (proper, of God), Christology (E. Boring), the Matthean Jesus’ use of Scripture (F. Scott Spencer), and women in Matthew (B. Reid). And there are some interesting long and short book reviews, some on Matthew/Jesus and some on other topics.
I recently gave a lecture on Paul’s ecclesiology in Philippians. One aspect I have focused on is Paul’s use of militarist language, how he engenders a particular esprit de corps among them. One analogy that I used comes from Josephus, where he describes how John of Giscala and Simon Bar Giora had to set aside their rivalry to protect Jerusalem from Titus.
So those of different factions cried out one to another, that they acted entirely as in concert with their enemies, where as they ought…to lay aside their enmities one against another, and to unite together against the Romans…So on both sides they laid aside their hatred and their peculiar quarrels, and formed themselves into one body (BJ 5.278-9).
How perfect this fits the context of the Philippians and Paul’s appeal that they set aside rivalries and quarrels and take up common cause. I also found it interesting that, twice, Josephus refers to a military group as “one body” (once for the Roman army, once here). When Josephus describes the fluid unity of the Roman army in battle, his description, again, paints a perfect picture of the kind of cooperation and cohesiveness Paul longs to see in his Philippian church.
…when they come to a battle, the whole army is but one body, so well coupled together are their ranks, so sudden their turnings about, so sharp their hearing as to what orders are given them, so quick their sight of the ensigns (i.e., standards), and so nimble are their hands when they set to work (BJ 3.104-5).
I have found a number of other interesting and useful parallels, but I am hoping to turn my Philippians lectures into a book on the living theology of Philippians. So I will restrain from giving it all away! Nevertheless, I have found Josephus’ descriptions so evocative and useful for teaching about ancient models of unity and cooperation!
Having recently seen my dissertation come to print with Walter de Gruyter, it is a huge relief to have that monkey off my back. While some scholars study one area the rest of their life, I would go bonkers. I am pretty much done with Paul and his cultic metaphors, though it was a good avenue for learning how to do research.
So, what’s next? I humbly accepted a gracious offer from Smyth & Helwys to write the Colossians volume for the S & H commentary series. A while back, I endorsed the commentary on 1 Corinthians. S & H have designed a really attractive series, with numerous pictures and sidebars, an expectation of cutting edge scholarship, and a view towards the theological relevance of the text. I have been thoroughly impressed with the volumes I have come in contact with, such as Ben Witherington’s work on Matthew.
I will be working on this for about two years, though I have some other projects on my plate. There are, of course, a number of truly excellent Colossians commentaries already out there (e.g., O’Brien, Barth, Dunn) and I am privileged to be counted among them.
If any of you have written articles on Colossians and would be willing to share them with me, I would be delighted. Please email them to me at my SPU address: “guptan[at]” and then “spu.edu”. Thanks!
One of the premier theology/Biblical journals, Journal of Theological Studies, has its second issue of 2010 online now. It includes some very interesting titles (I don’t have access to the electronic version, so I will eventually check out the print version). Here are some highlights
“The Defilement of the Hands as a Principle for Determining the Holiness of the Scriptures” (T. Lim)
“The Testament of the 12 Patriarchs and the Didascalia Apostolorum: A Common Jewish Christian Milieu?” (Joel Marcus)
As for Reviews:
Walter Moberly reviews Todd Billings’ The Word of God for the People of God
John Goldingay reviews Scott Hahn’s Kinship by Covenant
Christopher Tuckett reviews Larry Hurtado’s The Early Christian Artefacts
Larry Hurtado reviews James Dunn’s Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?
James Dunn reviews T. Engberg-Pedersen’s Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul
I have done a lot of lecturing this week, both inside and outside the classroom. It has given me a chance to reflect on what it means to be a teacher, especially of theology and Scriptures.
I used to think, as a student, that teachers were paid to come up with new ideas and novel approaches to problems. Sure, they can and sometimes do, in fact, provide these things. However, as an instructor myself, I have come to realize that very little of what I say in class is “original.” Rather, my role, if we performed, is to:
- Selectively offer the insightful pieces of information, amid the vast amount of literature I access weekly
- Distill the centuries and decades of scholarship in my subject
- develop analogies and models that help contextualize the theoretical information I have learned, to better serve young or uninitiated students
- tacitly and explicitly make a case for the usefulness of theological reasoning and interpretation in everyday life
- help students and other learners process the method through which they read the Bible and think about “theology” and religion
This moves me further away from what I all along expected to be in academia – an information giant. Rather, we (as teachers) are roaming interpreters, moving between book and community, rapackaging heavy loads into bearable ideas and exhortations.
After having it collect some dust on my shelf, I am finally cracking the pages of Walter Hansen’s Pillar commentary on Philippians (Eerdmans). To be frank, I have not found the Pillar series to be especially impressive in the area of creative and “new” ways of reading the text. However, they hardly will ever lead you astray or into speculative indulgences. They are great as “the only commentary on own on ___”. I have yet to see what Hansen contributes to the study of Philippians, but so far he has proven to be judicious and fair in the reading.
So far I have read the introduction and the commentary of 1:1-11.
Alongside other perfunctory introductory matters, H. contributes a few other elements. He considers Philippians to be, essentially, a deliberative speech, though he shows reservation in applying rhetorical categories directly to Paul as if that were Paul’s intention. Especially in terms of sub-diving Philippians into rhetorical components, H. writes, “A preoccupation with rhetorical form over substance is an obstacle to understanding the meaning of the theological themes and practical exhortation in Paul’s letter” (pp. 14-15).
He also treats some key themes including: disunity, suffering, opponents, “gospel,” and “community.” In terms of the theme of “opponents,” I appreciate his perspective on the “enemies of the cross”: “The result of giving in to the pressures of their culture would cause Christians to lives as enemies of the way of the cross: walking in the way of destruction, obeying their physical appetites as their god, making their boast in shameful activities, and setting their mind on earthly things” (p. 30).
(1) Why “with the overseers and deacons” – “…because they were the potential solution to the problem of disunity in the church” (p. 42)
(2) meaning of phroneo – “…refers to interior thoughts, attitudes, and feelings that motivate exterior directions and actions” (p. 51)
Again, I found much of what Hansen said already in Bockmuehl, O’Brien, Fee, Silva, Hooker, or Fowl. Nevertheless, he is a close reader of the text and an articulate communicator. More to come!