Paul's Letter to the Philippians (New International Commentary on the New Testament)
~Gordon D. Fee
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ISBN/ASIN : 0802825117
Manufacturer : Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company|
Release data : August, 1995
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Dr Fee has provided a commentary that is thoughtful and well constructed. The introductory material, 55 pages worth, provided an insightful context for the study of the letter. He went into adequate detail on controversies in the text without getting bogged down. I would recommend this to intermediate to advanced Bible students.
A word for all seasons
One of the most attractive features we sometimes find in NT commentaries is the proposed reconstruction of historical circumstances or of social/cultural setting that serves as the framework for the whole study and accounts for all the details in a consistent way. To the extent that it is hypothetical we can never be sure matters were as reconstructed; to the extent that everything comes together so well we must admit the possibility. Gordon Fee, in his commentary on First Corinthians (NICNT, 1987), posited a history of conflict between the Corinthian church and Paul having to do with Paul's apostolic authority and with his gospel, and came up with an exegetical tour de force. Fee duplicates the feat in this commentary on Philippians. He understands the whole letter in terms of first century Greco-Roman conventions of letter writing, specifically letters of "friendship" and of "moral exhortation", applied to the respective situations of Pual and the Philippians when the letter was written, but typically transformed by Paul. This apostle's overriding concern is Christ and the gospel. As Fee says, "For in Paul's hands everything turns into gospel..." The three-way bond between Paul, the Philippians and Christ "is the glue that holds the letter together from beginning to end." The exposition accords with this understanding and with the chronological scheme on pages 38-39 (which became a point of reference that I returned to several times as I read through the commentary), and succeeds in presenting a coherent whole.
The content of the letter allows ample scope for theological consideration, to which Fee responds with insight (many insights). A striking example is the concept of theology in Philippians taking the form of story (p. 47); thus the famous Christ hymn (2:6-11) is consistently referred to as the Christ narrative. Fee agrees with other commentators before him that the purpose of the hymn (narrative) was the presentation of Christ as the ultimate model to be emulated by the Philippians (love, humility, obedience); but at the same time this passage represents "the heart of Pauline theology" because it summarizes so movingly the central role of Christ and the true nature of God. If Paul is passionate about Christ, so is Fee, and it shows through in a number of eloquent passages. He is no mere academic; to him, what Paul told the Philippians in the first century remains "a word for all seasons" (Fee's expression).
Technical matters and interaction with other scholars are mostly restricted to the very full and rewarding footnotes. I can't help thinking, though, that a few of these are needlessly argumentative. At least where Hawthorne is concerned, I checked some of Fee's objections and found Hawthorne (WBC, vol. 43) to be equally convincing. The oft-repeated advice stands: Always consult more than one commentary. This does not detract from the value of Gordon Fee's contribution; it should be on the shortlist of everyone looking for a solid, detailed, and readable study of Paul's Letter to the Philippians. [Four and a half stars, had fractional ratings been possible.]
If you are looking for a readable commentary that goes deeper into the meaning of Phillipians and it's application today but you aren't a pastor or a bible school student, then I would highly recommend this one. I thought his comments on the structure and intent of the letter were outstanding and a revelation to me. I think there is also much in this book for the serious student but for a layman like me just wanting to understand what God could say to me through Paul's little letter, this book is a dream come true!