Keown, Mark J. Philippians 1:1-2:18. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2017. 533 pp.; Hb.; $39.99. Link to Lexham Press
Keown, Mark J. Philippians 2:19-4:23. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2017. 569 pp.; Hb.; $39.99. Link to Lexham Press
Mark Keown’s contribution on Philippians in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (EEC) is one of the most detailed commentaries published on this Pauline Letter. This two-volume exegetical commentary can take its place alongside recent major Philippians commentaries by Fee (NICNT, 1995), O’Brien (NIGTC, 1991) or Hawthorne and Martin, (WBC, revised edition, 2004). Keown’s revised dissertation was published as Congregational Evangelism in Philippians: The Centrality of an Appeal for Gospel Proclamation to the Fabric of Philippians (Paternoster Biblical Monographs; Cascade, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2009). He is a frequent presenter at SBL and has published several articles on aspects of Philippians.
The 92-page introduction to the commentary more or less assumes Pauline authorship and settles on a Roman provenance (33) after weighing the various alternate suggestions. He examines various suggestions Philippians is a compilation of several shorter letters (“interpreting Philippians does not require a multi-letter hypothesis,” 22). He suggests a range of dates from 61-64, but favors the later end of that range (33).
In his reconstruction of the background of the letter, Keown traces the history of the Roman church. Although it was primarily a Jewish Christian movement, after the edict of Claudius in A.D, 49 it was increasingly a Gentile church. This created friction as Jewish Christians returned to Rome after the death of Claudius. Keown suggests there was already some anti-Paulinism in the Roman church before Paul wrote Romans in A.D. 56. By the time Paul arrived in A.D. 60, there already was opposition to Paul from local Jewish Christian congregations.
He also argues the conditions of Paul’s imprisonment have taken a turn for the worse because of conditions in Rome (ie. “Nero’s lunacy, p. 14) in the early A.D. 60s. He is no longer under house arrest, but “in chains” and his life is in danger. As Keown acknowledges, this older view is so out of favor it rarely appears in a commentary on Philippians, but he argues the idea has merit (6). Despite worsening conditions, Paul is still zealously preaching the gospel, although his imprisonment has caused him to put off going to Spain. Instead, his intention is to return to Philippi when he is permitted to leave Rome. Keown wants this decision to affect the interpretation of the book, in contrast to Stephen Fowl (for example) who said it made little difference whether the Philippians was written from Ephesus or Rome. That Paul was writing from a Roman imprisonment will heighten the contrast between the Roman Empire and the heavenly politeuma (33, note 121).
This leads Keown to suggest Paul may have intended to escape from his Roman imprisonment and travel to Philippi. This material is synthesized from Keown’s 2015 article in the Journal for the Study Paul and his Letters. The letter of Philippians clearly indicates Paul was in prison and planned to visit Philippi soon. At least according to church tradition Paul did leave Rome and continued to do some ministry (depending on the status of the Pastoral Epistles). Yet there is nothing to explain how he was released from prison. Keown briefly surveys many of the possible solutions to Paul’s confidence he will leave Rome and concludes a prison escape answers all of the potential problems (12). Paul claims to have friends in the Praetorian Guard (1:13) who could help him escape. The obvious objection to this interesting reconstruction is Paul’s desire to bear witness before Caesar (Acts 23:11) as well as his willingness to suffer for the sake of Christ (2 Cor 11:16-33). Yet even while boasting about his suffering, Paul does claim to have escaped from Damascus when persued by Aretas IV (2 Cor 11:33). Although Keown does not mention it, Paul avoids persecution a number of times in Acts (at Thessalonica and Ephesus for example). Although not exactly prison escapes, they do indicate Paul was willing to relocate in order to continue preaching the gospel, or at the very least Paul cannot be considered as seeking martyrdom.
Perhaps the most useful feature of the introduction for most readers will be the lengthy introduction to the city and culture of Philippi. As Keown points out, Philippi was founded as a kind of mini-Rome,” and this observation opens up several important interpretive possibilities. After a sketch of the history of the city, Keown offers a commentary-worthy discussion of Acts 16 and the charges against Paul and Silas. He argues the letter of Philippians reflects a clash between Caesar and Christ, especially in the Christ Hymn (Phil 2:5-11). Because Philippi was so Roman in outlook, it is natural to see some of Paul’s presentation as “anti-imperial.” Keown says the letter is “utterly subversive and countercultural,” although he stops short of some of the more radical anti-imperial readings of the letter (44).
The last long section of the introduction is an account of the church itself. For Keown, the Philippian church is predominantly Gentile including a number of prominent women (Lydia, for example). Paul has a positive relationship with the church and there is little which needs to be corrected as in Corinth, although there are some problems with divisions (4:2-3). The church is facing some opposition, which Keown describes as “twin challenges” (56) from Jerusalem (Judiazers) and Rome (Greco-Roman libertines). The final part of this description of the church is excellent fodder for a pastor preparing to preach this letter.
After the introduction, the body of the commentary is laid out in large sections divided into logical sub-sections as outlined in the introduction. Each section of commentary begins with an introduction discussing the context of the section as well as literary features. Following this introduction Keown offers his own translation of the text along with extensive textual critical notes.
The commentary itself proceeds phrase-by-phrase. Keown provides the Greek text followed by his translation. He comments extensively on Greek syntactical and lexical issues, occasionally comparing various translations in order to indicate the importance of the grammatical decisions. Since this is an exegetical commentary on the Greek text of Philippians, Greek words appear frequently and are not transliterated. Major commentaries are cited in-text, technical monographs and articles appear in the footnotes. Keown interacts with all major Philippians commentaries (Fee, O’Brien, for example), including many classic works (Lightfoot, Vincent, for example).
Following the exegetical section Keown makes a brief conclusion and offers a short section entitled “Biblical Theological Comments.” Here he tries to connect the pericope to the larger world of Pauline theology. For example, after the exegetical section on Philippians 3:1-21, Keown discusses the impact of Paul’s conversion on his theology, especially his view on what “Israel” means after his encounter with Christ as well as the role of the law. Paul’s “fresh perspective on the law” is not antinomian, but rather “agapenomian, hypernomian, pneumanomian or kardianomian” (2:183). The four neologisms do indeed express how Paul sees the law in the present age (even if they are unlikely to catch on).
Each exegetical section ends with a short thought entitled “application and devotional implications.” An exegetical commentary may draw theological implications, but not many technical commentaries like this one allow the author’s pastoral heart to come forward and offer such exhortations.
Each volume includes a Scripture index, and volume two includes a brief glossary of foreign words and technical terms. The second volume also includes an extensive, 42-page bibliography divided into technical monographs, articles and essays, and other non-Philippians works cited in the commentary. For the commentaries, the bibliography follows the introduction in volume 1 (pages 83-92). There is no index of authors cited in either volume.
In the printed version of this commentary there were a few typographical oddities. In volume 2, starting on page 187 the header does not include the chapter/verse, although it does in the previous and following sections (it simply reads “Philippians” through page 290). However, this does not distract from the content of the commentary.
Since Lexham Press is part of the larger Faithlife family, these volumes are available in Logos Bible Software as a single resource rather than two volumes. In the Logos resource, all Scripture is tagged so readers can float over the reference with their pointer and read the text or click to read the text in their preferred Bible. All abbreviations and references to other commentaries are similarly tagged; if you own the book you can click the pages to go directly to the resource. An additional advantage for the Logos version over the printed version is the ability to click on Greek words to launch your preferred lexicon. I happen to have BDAG in my library, so clicking a Greek work in the commentary takes me to the lexicon. Resources in the footnotes can be copied and pasted into a word processor, or in BibTex format for use in bibliography software. Finally, references to other section of the commentary are hyperlinked. For example, when Keown refers back to his thematic and structural analysis (page 492, for example), the Logos user can click the hyperlink and go directly to page 80 to read this section.
One potential problem is a discrepancy between the Logos resource (published 2016) and the printed book (published 2017). Since an electronic book can be updated frequently, it is possible a printed copy will be out of date. To date there are eleven commentaries in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary available to Logos users, with a total of forty-four volumes planned.
NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book, both in print and Logos format. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.