Philippians: Annotated Ranking of Academic Commentaries

There are many excellent commentaries available for Philippians.  Additionally, many are new or have had recent updates.  I have divided the commentaries into two sections.  First, are the longer works which include a lot of footnotes, bibliographies, and in depth interaction with scholarship.  In my opinion any of the four listed are excellent choices for any research project and all four should be consulted for any serious project.  The second section contains many excellent commentaries, however they have fewer footnotes and contain less interaction with scholarship.  Many of these volumes are excellent with 5-7 as the best in their class.

AlthoughI have most of the Philippians commentaries ranked I do not have descriptions of them all yet.  I will publish an updated list in the near future.

Deep Interaction with Modern Scholarship

philippians_obrine1.  Peter T. O’Brien, NIGTC, 1991, 597 p.   Unified letter: Yes

 This is my first stop for any work on Philippians.  However, O’Brien’s work is rapidly becoming outdated.  O’Brien provides extensive interaction with scholarship and clearly presents and summarizes each of the major opinions for most passages.  O’Brien’s work is my clear favorite for easily deciphering the important arguments and the positions of the important scholars for any passage.  There is an excellent bibliography at the beginning of the work and at the beginning of each new section.  Furthermore, the footnotes are clear and the full citation is easily found.  While 1991 is not too old, it is rapidly becoming dated and the bibliography could use a revision.  Moreover, there is not much interaction with rhetorical criticism which has recently seen an explosion in the amount of works published through this lens.

Reumann_Philippians2. John Reumann, Anchor Bible, 2009, 805 p.  Unified Letter: No, 3 letters.

Reumann’s Anchor Bible commentary may now be the best source for scholars working on Philippians.  Reumann interacts with a vast amount of scholarship in an insightful manner.  The recent publication of this work allows for interaction with newer scholarship and additionally, much more interaction with rhetorical criticism which has grown substantially since O’Brien’s 1991 work.  Moreover, Reumann summarizes the positions of scholars in a helpful and organized manner.  For instance, concerning Paul’s thankless thanks in Phil 4:10-20, Reumann summarizes the views of eight different camps of scholarship.  However, the presentation of this commentary can be problematic.  Reumann divides each section into three different parts which contain different types of commentary.  While this division can at times be helpful, it is also somewhat frustrating.  For one needs to consult three different commentary sections to  for any one section or passage.  What prohibits this commentary from taking the top spot away from O’Brien is the frustrating manner in which footnotes and sources are handled.  Each section contains an unusual combination of parenthetical and footnote citations.  While a tremendous amount of useful sources are mentioned, the full citations can be difficult to track down.  Each section contains a brief bibliography, which is helpful, but does not contain nearly all of the sources mentioned.  Additionally, there is a bibliography at the beginning of the work, but it is also painfully short.  Essentially Reumann’s work is an excellent reference work that can be difficult to work though.  Thus, Reumann’s commentary is best described as an essential useful tool for any specialist but too overwhelming for the non-specialist. 

 3.  Gordon D. Fee, NIC, 1995, 497 p.

I consider Fee_philGordon Fee’s work to be the top Philippians commentary for the non-specialist.  Fee’s specialty seems to be combining top notch scholarship with clear and interesting prose.  It is hard not to be interested by a work that includes statements such as, “On the surface, his explanation looks like a meteor fallen from the sky into his epistle …” (431)  Fee’s commentary while excellent is much less technical than those by Reumann, O’Brien, and Martin.  While the more technical commentaries interact extensively with modern scholarship and ancient Greek, Fee provides a smooth flowing text without the interruption that comes with the more technical works.  For the non-specialist this is can be quite attractive especially since Fee does interact with modern scholarship and ancient Greek (minimally) in his footnotes.  Furthermore, Fee provides an extensive bibliography at the beginning of the work.   The bottom line is the specialist should turn to Reumann or O’Brien first for more analysis of the Greek text, however, for the non-specialist Fee is an excellent starting point for any research project.

4. Ralph Martin, Word Biblical, 2004, 383 p.

Limited Interaction with Scholarship

5.  Moises Silva, BECNT, 2005, 248 p.  Unified Letter: Yes

Silva’s commentary is a bit short, at 248 pages, for a first rate reference commentary.  His work does not contain the depth or intense interaction with scholarship that is found in the larger commentaries, but Silva’s presentation is excellent and his insights are useful.  Additionally, he provides an excellent bibliography with sources up through 2003.  Instead of the abundance of footnotes found in other commentaries that some might find overwhelming Silva provides a lesser amount of high quality footnotes to assist in any project.  Thus, for someone seeking a commentary that presents the most important positions, this may be a good first choice.  A blurb on the back cover describes this work perfectly with the phrase “a substantive yet accessible discussion of Philippians …”

6. Markus Bockmuehl, Black’s, 1997, 327 p. Unified Letter: Yes

7. Bonnie B. Thurston, Sacra Pagina, 2009, 163 p. Unified Letter: Yes

8. Charles B. Cousar, New Testament Library,  2009, 91 p.   Unified Letter: Yes

This commentary is simply too short to be a useful tool for any deep study on Philippians.  At a scant 91 pages it functions quite well as a short commentary for someone looking to read a commentary on Phillipans, but it adds no new material not covered by the commentaries ranked higher.  Thus, its usefulness as a reference is severely hampered by its length.   

9.  Jean-Francois Collange, 1979, 159 p.   Unified Letter: No, 3 letters.

Collange’s work is translated from a 1973 French commentary and at this point is quite dated.  The sections are rather brief and the interaction with scholarship is somewhat limited.  However, along with Gnilka, Collange is often cited as defending either an unusual position or one that has fallen out of favor.  Thus, having it on hand is always a good idea.

10. Ben Witherington, Friendship and Finances in Philippi, 1994, 180 p.

While this work is currently the only commentary that specializes in rhetorical criticism and Philippians (Duane Watson is currently working on one for Deo which should be excellent), Witherington does not interact with either rhetorical criticism or Philippians with enough depth to warrant its use on a regular basis.  It is certainly useful as an introduction to how one might employ socio-rhetorical criticism and contains a lenghty introduction to the subject.  However, he does not provide  enough indepth insight with regard to either Philippians or rhetorical criticism.  Instead, I recommend monographs by Bloomquist and Holloway which provide a more detailed interaction of rhetorical cricitism and Philippians.  Additionally, Reumann’s commentary, while not specializing in rhetoric, engages the genre quite well.

Forthcoming Commentaries

1.) Holloway, Hermeneia 

2.) Watson, Deo


I realize this list is not complete, but I will add some others soon.  Feel free to correct me if you think my order is incorrect or if there is a commentary that must be included.