Brown, Jeannine K. Philippians. Tyndale New Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021. xxiv+243 pp. Pb. $25.00 Link to IVP Academic
This new volume in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series replaces the original 186-page volume by Ralph Martin, originally published in 1959. Jeannine K. Brown is professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. She published a Matthew commentary in Baker’s Teach the Text series (2015) and the Two Horizons commentary on Matthew (with Kyle Roberts, Eerdmans 2018). She served as an editor for the second edition of the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (IVP Academic, 2013).
The fifty-seven-page introduction begins with a discussion of hermeneutical considerations. She describes her method as a close reading of the text, including historical reconstruction inattention to the literary facets of the letter. All of this leads to a better understanding of Paul’s theology, which is both pastoral and practical.
Brown reads the letter of Philippians in a particular situation, which is confirmed by using Paul’s other letters, the archeology of Philippi, and contemporary literature. This contemporary literature includes a “judicious use of the book of Acts” (3).
Under the heading, reading Paul with an implied author, she asks “how would the original readers of the letter have experienced Paul when they first heard the letter?“ They would not know the other letters of Paul (nor, I would add, did they have a Reformation worldview). When reading the “Paul of Philippians,” knowledge of the other Pauline letters easily influences the modern reader, leading to a skewed portrait. For example, reading Philippians in the light of Romans and Galatians, for example, leads to questions: “where did justification by faith go?” “Where is the law/grace conflict?” By focusing on what Paul communicates to his readers, these questions are less important.
Regarding historical matters, assuming Paul is the author alliance the letter with other Pauline literature; And the autobiographical section contributes to our overall portrait of the apostle Paul. With respect to the audience, Brown sketches a brief history of Philippi with an emphasis on the veneration of the imperial family in the first century. Although there was no legal requirement for this veneration, there were social and political pressures to participate. Paul has a positive relationship with the church, the letter has a warm tone, and the church was generous towards Paul. She also points out the prominence of women in the letter. How large was the church at Philippi? Maybe fifty people when Paul wrote, although Peter Oakes suggests one hundred. Following Oakes, she suggests the congregation is primarily Greek, not Roman, from a broad social spectrum.
Brown is swayed by convincing arguments for an Ephesian provenance, although Caesarea is possible. The distance from Rome is the major problem for the traditional view that Paul wrote Philippians during his house arrest in Rome AD 60-62. If Paul wrote the letter from Ephesus, it dates to mid-50s AD.
Regarding the purpose of the letter, she follows the traditional reconstruction: The Philippian church sent Epaphroditus to deliver a gift to Paul. He fell ill was late in returning. Paul therefore acknowledges the gift and explains Epaphroditus’s situation. There is no need to be concerned for Paul while he is in prison because the gospel is still advancing. He encourages the Philippian church towards unity (there is some hint of divisions in the letter). He also warns against threats from opponents, although it is unclear who these opponents are.
Since the letter is brief, it is difficult to determine the identity of the opponents in Philippians. It is possible that there are multiple opponents. Brown suggests they are likely unbelievers living in Philippi, pressuring believers who Christians refuse to take part in local cults. Philippians 3:2 may imply the opponents are Judaizers, although she suggests the problem is Judaizing ideas rather than real people (as in Galatians). Whoever they are, Paul calls them “enemies of the cross” (3:18-19).
The introduction also surveys literary issues. For many, Philippians is a friendship letter, although others suggest a family letter, but there is no consensus. Philippians has several embedded genres, such as Jewish poetry (the Christ hymn) and the virtue list (4:8). She discusses the integrity of the letter, stating that all objections to the unity of Philippians can be answered by considering the oral and aural characteristics of the letter. Like all of Paul’s letters, he intended this document to be read out loud (33). What strikes the modern reader as a cold thank you, this is a carefully worded thanks that would have left a powerful impression when heard by the original audience.
The introduction concludes with a survey of the theology of the letter. It is no surprise that Christology is the focus. Paul’s letters are always Christologically focused! Brown points out that Paul Christology in Philippians is autobiographical. He states that quote knowing Christ is his “highest desire (3:8). Regarding eschatology, Paul sees the arrival of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, as the fulcrum of history. In Philippians, Paul’s focuses on the present time of the Messiah, although he occasionally speaks of the day of Jesus. This is the still future arrival of the complete salvation for believers. This reflects the already/not yet nature of Paul’s eschatology.
Although not part of the introduction, Brown occasionally comments on potential imperial language in the letter. Paul uses citizenship language in 1:27 and 3:20 intentionally underline the political significance of the gospel. For Brown, Paul is advocating for “a wholehearted allegiance to Christ” (105). A dual allegiance to both the empire and Christ is impossible. For Paul, the lordship of Jesus is central to the gospel.
The body of the commentary is like other volumes in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series. The commentary is based on English, although Greek occasionally appears in transliteration. All syntactical details are found in the footnotes. Readers do not need to know Greek in order to use this commentary. It’s a general outline, each unit begins by setting the context. In this commentary, that includes Paul’s rhetorical emphasis in the section. In the commentary proper, Brown proceeds verse by verse, and occasionally phrase by phrase. Although there is occasionally interaction with other contemporary commentaries, this is not a catalog of other views. The commentary is therefore enjoyable to read. Each unit ends with a brief reflection on the theology of this section. Here she draws conclusions and offers brief comment on a bridging the gap to contemporary church issues or living at the Christian life.
Conclusion. Jeannine K. Brown’s Commentary on Philippians is a worthy replacement successor to Ralph Martin’s now classic commentary. In recent years, commentaries have become extremely long. It is therefore refreshing to have a brief, readable commentary on this important Pauline letter.
Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale series:
- Robin Routledge, Hosea
- Tchavdar S. Hadjiev, Joel and Amos
- Daniel C. Timmer, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah
- Snyman, S. D. Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah
- David G. Peterson, HebrewsThomas R. Schreiner, 1 Corinthians
- Ian Paul, Revelation
NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.