The Letter to the Philippians

G. Walter Hansen Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids October 5, 2009
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Hansen has produced an up-to-date, readable commentary on Paul’s letter to the Philippians that will contribute to meeting the needs of serious pastors and Bible teachers.

Hansen views Philippians as a thank-you note to Paul’s friends for their generosity that “exudes a joyful spirit and warm affection”; however, it also addresses problems in the community (p. 1). First, Hansen discusses the historical setting for the church at Philippi. Here the history of the city is traced and the founding of the church (based on Acts) is discussed (pp. 1–6). Next, the letter itself is discussed (pp. 6–19). In this section Hansen describes the letter as a “friendship” letter and explains the significance of this classification (pp. 6–12). This valuable section shows the importance of the letter form itself. Its classification as a friendship letter illuminates aspects of the letter that sometimes are missed. Also in this section Hansen discusses Philippians as public speech (deliberate speech; pp. 12–15). He suggests that the letter includes indications that it was intended for public reading, and therefore he discusses implications of ancient rhetoric on the letter. Hansen argues that Philippians is a single letter (pp. 15–19). Next, he discusses the occasion of the letter (pp. 19–30). Hansen concludes that Philippians was written in the mid-50s from prison in Ephesus (p. 24). He then discusses problems in the Philippian church: disunity, suffering, and opponents (pp. 25–30). The discussion of opponents provides four main options that are developed in the commentary proper. The introduction concludes with a “preview” of two themes that the author believes are prominent in the book: the gospel of Christ and the community in Christ (pp. 30–35).

The commentary itself is verse by verse. With the exception of the hymn (2:6–11), for which he gives his own translation, Hansen uses the New International Version as his text for comment. He provides a nice interpretation of the text, but he does not deal much with grammar and other Greek issues. He spends a fair amount of time on the poetic nature (hymn form) of 2:6–11 (pp. 122–33) without adding too much detail that will detract from the commentary. He believes the hymn was pre-Pauline (p. 131) and penned by an early Hellenistic Jewish Christian missionary (possibly Stephen; p. 133). The first stanza describes Christ’s preexistence (pp. 133–35). Hansen’s discussion of difficult elements of the hymn such as the meaning of morfh' and uJpavrcwn (2:6) and “made himself nothing” (2:7) are very helpful. Arguments and conclusions are both detailed and clear (pp. 134–51). The meaning of “work out your salvation” in 2:12 can be understood only in light of the unity of the church (p. 172). For Hansen, this fits nicely with the corporate theme of the community in Christ and more importantly with the context of chapter 2. Thus it solves a problem sometimes associated with this verse (i.e., the false view that individuals need to work for their salvation).

Hansen makes an interesting connection between 2:6–11 and 3:20–21. Although he is cautious, he thinks that 3:20–21 is also a hymn (or a fragment of a hymn) and it completes the message of 2:6–11 (pp. 276–77). This is an interesting hypothesis and worthy of further consideration.

Hansen’s discussion of 3:20–21 includes valuable information, but he does not allow it to impact his study as much as it could. Elsewhere this background is nearly ignored. Hansen sees the Old Testament as the main background. The Old Testament is probably the key background for all of Paul’s writings. However, to a Roman colony without much of Jewish background, it is difficult to assume they would be able to separate themselves from their culture so completely that they would fail to see obvious links with Roman ideology. This is not an either/or issue. Most likely both Jewish and Roman backgrounds are important for understanding this text. This passage is where it is most obvious; however, the entire commentary would be improved with more interaction on Roman backgrounds.

A select bibliography appears at the beginning (pp. xviii–xxxiii). The volume concludes with four indexes: authors, subjects, Scripture references, and extrabiblical literature.

This commentary is a welcome addition to the literature on Philippians. It will meet the needs of much of its intended readership. For seminary-educated and other exegetically trained Bible teachers, it probably will not serve as their primary commentary on the book. Its lack of detail in the areas such as grammar demand that one look elsewhere for such information. Nevertheless it gives fresh insights, and it is a commentary that will benefit all who use it.

—Joseph D. Fantin

April 1, 2011
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Apr-Jun 2011 vol. 168 no. 2 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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