Introduction. The short book of Philippians is a favorite for many Christians. The book contains one of the most important theological texts in the New Testament, the Christ-Hymn in Phil 2:5-11. Exegesis of this incredible piece of theological worship ought to be central to any commentary on Philippians. Ralph Martin wrote a monograph on this text which surveys recent interpretation of the song and is longer than most commentaries on the whole book (A Hymn of Christ, Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarstiy, 1983, 1997).
Commentaries on Philippians usually deal with the suggestion that the letter combines two (or more) shorter letters. There is a rough transition after 3:1, from warm and friendly to a rather strong polemic against Judaizers. There are many suggested solutions to the problem, usually suggesting some sort of interpolation of one or more shorter letters in the book. Just who these opponents are is an issue related to the date of the book. If the letter comes from an earlier point in Paul’s career rather than from Roman imprisonment, then the opponents may be the same people targeted by Galatians.
Peter T. O’Brien, Philippians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1991). Like most of the New International Greek Text Commentary, O’Brien’s contribution on Philippians is excellent and well worth the price. He finds interpolation theories lacking, causing more problems than they solve. The book was written by Paul during the Roman imprisonment to thank the church for their support and to warn them against Judaizing false teachers. He proceeds through the Greek text of Philippians phrase-by-phrase without transliteration, making both syntactical and lexical comments. He integrates into the body of the commentary theological observations as he interacts with a wide range of contemporary Pauline scholarship. He includes three short excursuses on the Christ Hymn (which he oddly called appendices). His comments on the phrase “taking the form of a servant” and Isaiah 53:12 are judicious, ultimately rejecting a certain connection between the two texts.
Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin, Philippians. Revised and Expanded (WBC; Dallas: Word, 2004). Ralph Martin updated the original WBC volume on Philippians by adding to the bibliographies and expanding the explanations at the end of pericopes. Martin is the New Testament editor for the series and has written an excellent monograph on the Christ Hymn, as well as a short commentary on Philippians in the New Century series (Eerdmans, 1976). In fact, this section is where the commentary excels. The bibliography is extensive (up to 2003), the comments on the structure of the hymn are detailed and interact well with contemporary rhetorical studies of the hymn. The comments proceed almost word-by-word through this section since virtually every word has theological importance. There is a brief “review” after the main commentary on 2:5-11 summarizing the exegesis of the six verses.
Moisés Silva, Philippians. Second Edition. (BENTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2005). Silva’s commentary was one of the earliest in the Baker series, originally a reprint of the 1988 Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary. The second edition adds two sections to the introduction (“Literary Structure” and “Exegetical History”) and the footnotes are expanded to include scholarship since the first edition was printed. The commentary proceeds phrase-by-phrase, with Greek appearing along with transliteration. Text critical notes are included in “additional comments,” which strike me as longer than in other volumes of this series. In fact, at times these notes look more like a Greek-Text commentary than the main body of the work!
Gordon D. Fee, Philippians. (IVP New Testament Commentary; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1999). This is the first volume from this series I have included thus far, although it is not because others in the series are weak. For the most part, this commentary is more brief than the others and perhaps for that reason more accessible for the layman or busy pastor. What sets this commentary apart is Fee’s use of the Greco-Roman ideal of friendship as a model for understanding the letter. In this he follows closely the work of Stanley K. Stowers (“Friends and Enemies in the Politics of Heaven” in Pauline Theology edited by J. M. Bassler [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991]), 105-121 and Ben Witherington, III (Friendship and Finances in Philippi [Trinity, 1994]). The body of the commentary is based on the English text, Greek appears only in transliteration, with only light comments on syntax only when necessary. Fee interacts with other scholars, but for the most part these are his observations on the text. This makes for a very readable commentary which will be quite useful for sermon preparation.
Conclusion. Other commentaries ought to be included I am sure, but I have limited myself to five for this series – what are your favorites? What “classic” should be on every pastor or scholar’s shelf? Moule perhaps?
Index for the Top Five Commentary Series
Matthew Mark Luke John Acts
Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians
1-2 Thessalonians Pastoral Epistles Philemon
Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter & Jude
Letters of John Revelation