Reumann_PhilippiansThe newest RBL update includes a review of Reumann’s 2008 Philippians commentaryby the incomparable James Dunn.  I too have posted my updated thoughts on Reumann’s work in my Annotated Philippians Commentary Rankings post.

Dunn and I generally agree in our evaluation of Reumann’s work.  We both find the format of the work frustrating with the commentary of each section divided into three different parts: Notes, A, and B (often with extensive overlap ).  Also, it can be quite difficult to track down full citations for footnotes.  However, this problem is alleviated to some degree by extensive use of the commentary.  Moreover, we agree in our overall assessment of Reumann’s commentary.   It is an in depth reference tool that can be frustrating to use.  I would add that this is a commentary geared for the specialist looking for an interaction with the most recent Philippians scholarship.  For the non-specialist I would recommend the fine commentaries by Fee or O’Brien.

Here are a few quotes from Dunn’s review, the entire review can be found here. 

The result is a somewhat lopsided treatment that is sometimes frustrating to use.”

“This is a volume that few will turn to for a gentle, stimulating read. It will be more like a reference work …”

Chasing up bibliography is also sometimes difficult, since it is often not clear whether the full details of a particular reference are to be found in the general bibliography or one of the many sectional bibliographies.”

More serious is the amazingly brief introduction—only eighteen pages, a significant proportion of them containing bibliography (in addition to a further twenty-eight page general bibliography).”


Fee_philToday I am posting an update to my annotated ranking of the academic Philippian commentaries.  While I had already moved Gordon Fee’s work up to the #3 position, today I am adding a mini review for the work.  Here is one line from my review that summarizes my thoughts on Fee’s commentary, “I consider Gordon 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.”

If you have any quibbles with my review or ranking of Fee’s commentary please let me know as I am interested in what my readers think, especially since so many rank Fee’s commentary as the top Philippians commentary.

Fee_philToday I updated my annotated ranking of the academic Philippian commentaries.  After more interaction with Fee, his entry in the NIC series has moved up to number 3, surpassing Martin’s update in the WBC series.  It is impressive how many great Philippians commentaries there are, especially with the knowledge that more are on the way.  It is my hope that my rankings will be helpful to anyone researching Paul from the undergraduate to the budding scholar.  If any reader has any suggestions concerning my list, please do not hesitate to include your comments.

One of the more interesting words employed by Paul in his letter to the Philippians is αὐτάρκης, in Phil 4:11.  αὐτάρκης is normally translated as self-sufficiency.  The word only appears here in the NT but is a staple for the Stoics and other philosophical schools.  My favorite quote on the matter stems from the ever quotable Gordon Fee who states in his NIC Philippians commentary that the term “… looks like a meteor fallen from the Stoic sky into his epistle …” (431)

Reumann (from his AB Philippians commentary) problematizes the term a bit by providing a thorough analysis of the different meanings of the term from the various philosophical schools.  He demonstrates that the Cynics, Stoics, and Aristotle used the term differently.  Additionally, O’Brien concludes that the term was part of the wider currency of the culture by Paul’s day.  Thus, we arrive at the big question, what do we do with the word αὐτάρκης? 

The most reasonable conclusion seems to be that Paul used a word from the philosophical schools that the Philippians would have immediately recognized to denote his self-sufficiency.  However, as most commentators note, Paul seems to have twisted the use of the word.  While the Stoics it meant self-sufficiency and relying only on oneself,  Paul makes it clear that he does not rely only on himself but rather on God.  Thus, Bruce’s oft cited statement that Paul was less self-sufficient and more “God-sufficient” seems accurate.

For further ramifications of Paul’s use of αὐτάρκης and why its use is important in Philippians 4:11 see  the articles by Ken Berry and Abraham Malherbe in Friendship, Flattery, and Frankness of Speechor check out my upcoming dissertation (completion date currently unknown).

In working on my dissertation chapter concerning Philippians I was reminded of a problem that I find especially interesting.  Why doesn’t Paul describe his opponents in Phil 1:15-17 with harsher language?

In Philippians, Paul informs the community that despite his current imprisonment, the gospel has continued to spread. First, he informs them that his imprisonment has become known throughout the entire praetorium (of course there has been endless speculation as to what precisely Paul means by this word) and to everyone else. However more interesting, Paul also informs the Philippians that Christian preachers have become more bold in their preaching, some from “goodwill” but others from envy and rivalry. Additionally, those preaching out of envy and rivalry “proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment.” (NRSV Phil. 1:17).

It seems likely that one could anticipate Paul’s response to these “opponents” based on similar situations in Galatians, 2 Corinthians, and even Philippians 3. For instance, the opponents in Philippians 3:2 are described as dogs, evil workers, and “those who mutilate the flesh” (NRSV Phil. 3:2) Additionally, in Galatians Paul states that some teachers have come and perverted the gospel and that “even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8) These are strong words indeed. Thus, one would anticipate that Paul would have harsh words for those that preach the gospel out of envy, strife, and with the intention of making Paul’s life more difficult.   However, this is not the case!

Despite what we might expect Paul, does not describe his opponents in 1:17 in similarly negative terms. In fact, Paul rejoices because “Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true” (NRSV Phil. 1:18)  Paul’s unusual stance concerning those who oppose him has led to a myriad of proposals concerning who these opponents might be.  The most thorough and concise summary  concerning Paul’s opponents in 1:15-1:17 is found in Reumann’s new Anchor Bible Commentary on Philippians.  Reumann lists the following possibilities: pagan agitators, Jews, Judaizing Christians, zealot Christians, Christians jealous of Paul, itinerant Christians missionaries with a divine man theology, Gnostic Christians, Christians angry with Paul for asserting his Roman citizenship, and a faction within the community concerned with financial matters, friendship, and enmity. 

In part 2 of this series I will examine some of the various proposals listed above concerning whom Paul’s opponents might have been in Philippians 1:15-17.  If anyone wants to defend one of the proposals beforehand please do so in the comments section.

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.

Thanks go out to Kathy Russ at Hendrickson for sending me Jerry L. Sumney’s excellent new work Philippians: A Greek Student’s Intermediate Reader.  The full length book review is included below and I will post an abridged version of the review later in the week.

Philippians: A Greek Student’s Intermediate Reader, by Jerry L. Sumney. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007. Pp. xxiv + 161. $14.95.

Jerry Sumney’s recent book Philippians: A Greek Student’s Intermediate Reader is an ancient Greek reader targeted towards individuals who have completed one year of Greek and are looking to read an actual text. Sumney certainly has succeeded in providing a thorough, helpful, and attractive reader for the continuing Greek student. Philippians is a useful work for a wide audience including instructors, intermediate Greek students, and even more advanced students looking to tune up their Greek.

The overall approach of this reader is to provide small chunks of material and provide extensive grammatical information for each chunk. Sumney divides Philippians into eight chapters each consisting of Greek passages accompanied by English translations. Each Greek passage is then broken into chunks of three to eight words which are thoroughly analyzed. Morphological information is provided for verbs and the various grammatical elements are discussed. In fact, each new grammatical element is highlighted in a text box along the side which contains further information. For example, anyone who has completed their first year of Greek will certainly recognize a genitive, but Sumney provides further information such as the type of genitive and the possible translations available. Furthermore, the first appearance of a term such as the subjective genitive is accompanied by a text box containing a definition of the term and further examples from Paul’s letters. Additionally, Sumney notes any hapax legomena (words which appear only once in the NT) and words that are rare in the NT or Paul’s letters. These words can be more challenging to translate and Sumney often notes the definition of such words in other contexts and then provides insight as to how they should be translated within the scope of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

The chapters, in addition to containing grammatical information and insights into how scholars translate passages, also contain other valuable information. Each chunk of Greek is accompanied by a brief commentary and each chapter is concluded with a short bibliography for further study. The commentary included is brief which is to be expected from a Greek reader however it is often quite useful. For instance in 1:13 Paul uses the term praetorian and Sumney points out the importance of this term for determining his imprisonment.

Sumney includes further assistance for the continuing Greek student in the form of two valuable appendices. There is a glossary of grammatical terms and more importantly a second appendix which provides a brief but helpful examination of grammatical points covered in the text. While this information could certainly be found in any Greek textbook, its inclusion is certainly convenient.

The usefulness of this textbook is further enhanced by its low cost. It retails for $14.95 and sells for around $10 on By providing this work at such a reasonable cost its range of use is broadened substantially. Nearly any course in which intermediate Greek is examined would be enhanced by this text. At such as low price using Philippians for a few weeks alongside other intermediate Greek texts is a viable option. The commentary and bibliographic materials allow this text to be useful in any course that examines Philippians alongside other letters, even if it is not a course in ancient Greek. Finally, Sumney’s work is useful for any advanced Greek student looking to improve one’s Greek. I read through the text in a few hours and was reminded of the choices we must make concerning how various clauses and words should be translated. My only complaint about this text is that it was not around when I was an intermediate Greek student!