Best Commentaries on Paul with Nijay Gupta: Philippians

This short Pauline epistle has long fascinated scholars, especially the so-called “Christ Hymn” (2:6-11), offering the possibility that Paul embedded here a piece of liturgy or tradition from earliest Christianity (or Paul proves himself here a poet as well as a theologian). More recently, attention has turned to Paul’s shaping of Christian identity, his attitude towards his own Jewish identity and his pre-Christ past, and how he teaches the Philippians to navigate their life together in a potentially hostile context. Exegetical and theological wisdom is widely available in existing commentaries.


Technical

Gordon D. Fee (NICNT). Fee’s 1995 commentary has stood the test of time as a wise and mature treatment of Philippians, that relates Paul’s zeal for the work and mission of Christ to theology and ministry today. 

Joseph Hellerman (EGGNT). In his wider body of work on Philippians (monographs, essays, articles), I consider Hellerman to have a better grasp on Roman Philippi than any other biblical scholar. If you plan to dig into the Greek text in depth, this is a perfect companion. 

Gerald Hawthrone and Ralph Martin (WBC). Hawthorne and Martin offer a comprehensive and in-depth analysis of Philippians, primarily from a grammatical-historical perspective. Their work represents engagement with scholarship of a previous generation. While I have found it still very valuable, it should be complemented by a more recent treatment.

Paul Holloway (Hermeneia). Holloway argues that Philippians should be read as an ancient letter of consolation. Holloway is especially strong in relating Paul to the Greco-Roman philosophers of his time, but this sometimes makes Paul himself seem like a Stoic in Christian clothing.

John Reumann (AB). Reumann had written extensively on Philippians before publishing this commentary. And his knowledge of the text and related scholarship is evident in this massive tome. But the reader should be warned that the style of writing of the commentary makes it more like a dictionary than a readable “commentary.” It serves best as a guide to a particular verse or section. I should also mention that Reumann treats canonical Philippians as a composite of three separate Pauline letters.

Own it: Fee and Hellerman


Semi-Technical

Markus Bockmuehl (BNTC). It is unfortunate that Bockmuehl has not written more biblical commentaries, as this one is of extraordinary value, especially given its modest size. Bockmuehl is careful, balanced, well-informed, and theologically sharp. For a quick guide to exegetical matters, he proves consistently reliable.

Stephen Fowl (THNT). Fowl’s commentary was one of the earliest volumes in the THNT series. He models this series’ aims, since he was one of the chief architects of the “theological interpretation of Scripture” movement (along with people like Joel Green and Walter Moberly). In the “Theological Horizons” section of the commentary, Fowl devotes significant space to the theme of friendship in Philippians, and Christian theology.

Morna Hooker (NIB). Hooker, an eminent Pauline theologian, offers a careful and thoughtful study of Philippians with some pointers towards theological meaning for today. Hooker is a fresh thinker who does not buy into “consensus” views in Pauline studies. She is more than willing to step out on her own, and also to call out what she considers weak scholarship. Her major contributions to Pauline theology have included both an emphasis on union with Christ (which she calls “interchange”), and an interest in Adam Christology in Paul. 

Moises Silva (BECNT). Silva is especially knowledgable in the areas of textual criticism and hermeneutics. This commentary is a careful and judicious study that includes Silva’s own translation of Philippians. 

Todd D. Still (SHBC). Still is an expert Pauline scholar who is also deeply thoughtful about the life of the church. He blends the world of the ancient text and the modern world skillfully in this concise treatment of Philippians.

Ben Witherington (SR). Witherington deploys his “socio-rhetorical” approach to Philippians in his commentary, unpacking the letter’s message and meaning in its socio-historical context, with special interest in rhetorical features used by Paul. 

Own It: Bockmuehl or Hooker


Non-Technical

F. F. Bruce (NIBC/UBCS). This short commentary by Bruce offers an insightful study of Philippians from an evangelical legend. [Editor’s note: this series has been rebranded as Understanding the Bible Commentary Series; the content of the 2011 edition remains the same as the 1985 copyright.]

Lynn Cohick (SoGBC). Cohick brings to this layperson-oriented commentary both her expertise in the Greco-Roman and Jewish world of the first century as well as a broad range of ministry and life experiences, including teaching overseas at a theological college in Kenya.

Fred Craddock (Interpretation). Craddock’s discussion of Philippians is not as comprehensive as a traditional commentary, but his insights into the meaning and theology of this letter are deeply enriching.

Gordon D. Fee (IVPNT). Fee skillfully distilled his larger commentary down to a size and level that is useful for non-specialists. 

Own It: Cohick


Hidden Gems

Dean Flemming offers a deeply engaging, short commentary on Philippians in the New Beacon Bible Commentary series. Flemming is not only a reliable New Testament scholar, but he has expertise in mission and theology in the New Testament; he has written a nice volume entitled, Recovering the Full Mission of God: A Biblical Perspective on Being, Doing, and Telling (InterVarsity Press).

I would also like to direct your attention to David Garland’s short commentary on Philippians. Garland is a seasoned commentator, one of the finest Pauline scholars alive today, but this commentary is a bit hard to track down since, as part of the Revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary series (REBC), it is packaged together with other Pauline texts.

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Written by
Tavis Bohlinger

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger is Editor-in-Chief of the Logos Academic Blog and Creative Director at Reformation Heritage Books. He holds a PhD from Durham University and writes across multiple genres, including academia, poetry, and screenwriting. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three children.

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Written by Tavis Bohlinger
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