Comments on Commentaries: Philippians

This fall, I preached through Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. Thus, I spent a lot of time getting to know some commentaries. Commentaries are an essential part of a Pastor’s life. They are to the Pastor what a good saw is to a carpenter. When I made the choice to preach through Philippians, I had to go commentary shopping (had to… as if it’s a burden… more like YIPPEE! New commentaries!!). I picked up a few great ones. So, I figured I should report back on them, and give some analysis for any commentary reading folks out there. In order of excellence:

Peter O’Brien. The Epistle to the Philippians (New International Greek Testament Commentary). Eerdmans, 1991. A technical commentary, based on the Greek text (UBS Greek New Testament, ed. Kurt Aland et. al). O’Brien is fantastic in my estimation (can’t say enough good things about his Colossians commentary [Word Biblical Commentary] and I also recently picked up his Ephesians commentary [Pillar]). This one requires some knowledge of Greek, but not necessarily high expertise. Features a wonderful breakdown of important grammatical and vocabulary items without being bogged down by it. It still brings out the theological insights. He features a few “excursions”- side tangents related to the text, which influence exegesis (eg. the nature of the “Christ hymn” in 2:6-11 or the relationship between being “in Christ” and righteousness) which are very helpful. Overall, it is very solid, theologically sound. Although I only got it towards the end of the series, so I haven’t covered the entirety of the text in this volume. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this volume.

G. Walter Hansen. The Letter to the Philippians (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans, 2009. Based on the English (TNIV) text, but also providing some insights into Greek vocabulary (but very little in terms of grammatical forms). Hansen would be accessible to most (or all) with some theological training, but does not require a working knowledge of Greek. Hansen does provide strong vocabulary studies (offering various translation options for key words), but may even be too concerned with word studies. His introduction is fantastic, framing the whole of his exegesis well. He is theologically on the conservative side, but still is able to capture the beauty of the salvation portrait of Philippians which goes well beyond substitutionary atonement and personal salvation to capture to communal aspect and the ongoing work of salvation towards completion.

Gordon Fee. Philippians (IVP New Testament Commentary). IVP, 1999. This little commentary is excellent value for your money. Fee’s NICNT volume on Philippians is widely regarded as perhaps the standard commentary. I don’t own that volume, unfortunately. But this smaller version is very good for preaching (not so much if you’re writing an academic piece). It is entirely non-technical, designed for preachers to get the “main points” and Fee provides some insightful analogies and several quotable summary statements. Helpful but not comprehensive. I purchased the whole set this spring for a very reasonable $194, and although some volumes come up short, overall, it’s good bang for your buck.

Frank Thielman. Philippians (NIV Application Commentary). Zondervan, 1995. The NIVAC is hit or miss. Snodgrass on Ephesians is mind blowingly good. McKnight’s Galatians, Keener’s Revelation, and Enns’ Exodus volumes are great. This one, not so much. It does have some great moments, but overall it’s not as good as I had hoped. The introduction is solid, providing important contextual data. But his exegesis is shallow, brief, and lacking. The NIVAC format which provides the “Original Meaning” “Bridging Contexts” and “Contemporary Significance” which helps in some volumes, hinders this one. Thielman spends too much time attempting to answer questions not being asked (in my mind at least).

Karl Barth. Epistle to the Philippians (40th Anniversary Ed.). Trans. James W. Leitch. WJK, 2002. Barth as exegete is often overlooked. He is most known as a systematic theologian. I also own Barth’s Romans commentary, which is decent. But this one was underwhelming. It is far too brief, and at times ignores significant chunks of the text. From time to time he will include a brilliant insight (like in the case of 2:12). But overall, it’s not terribly helpful.

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