The New Philippians Commentary

(This commentary is now available for pre-order from Amazon, and on the market in the early Fall)

Sometimes when you come to the end of something, it’s a relief,  like finishing a marathon.  Sometimes it’s a joy.  And sometimes it’s  sad.   I must confess to having all these feelings in regard to writing my last New Testament commentary, this one a full-dress socio-rhetorical commentary on Philippians.  After twenty-five years writing commentaries on each NT book it is hard to believe I am done.  Yes, I wrote a very small commentary on this subject before entitled  Friendship and Finances in Philippi for Trinity Press Int.   That was a long time ago,  and this new commentary is not a mere revision of the earlier one, but a fresh new effort at the task, especially taking into account the scholarly literature written since the first commentary came out in the mid-90s.   I frankly was astounded by what a huge body of literature had sprung forth on ‘the jewel of the Pauline corpus’ since about 1995.

Like the previous volumes in the socio-rhetorical series,  this commentary attempts to look at Paul’s letter to the converts in Philippi especial from a social and a rhetorical point of view.   This is a natural and fruitful approach for several reasons: 1)  Philippi was a Roman colony city where all things Roman including rhetoric ruled the day;  2) in this congregation there were leading female members  and knowing about the roles of women in Philippi since the time of Alexander the Great helps with the understanding of several key things going on in this discourse;  3) the unique references to the Praetorium and the household of Caesar not only tell us something of the provenance of Philippians but also about the social situation Paul finds himself  in— under house arrest, but with the real prospect of gaining his freedom again;  4) when one analyzes Philippians as deliberative rhetoric with some epideictic features  the aims and purpose of this discourse become increasingly clear.  Paul wants them to continue embracing their Christian faith and model themselves on examples, especially the example of Christ himself as Phil. 2 makes evident;  5) at the end of the discourse,  Paul must address the delicate issue of ‘giving and receiving’  that is of reciprocity, for the Philippians had once again sent some monetary support to Paul.  How does one politely thank the audience without it sounding like a request for more, and in fact tell the audience ‘you’ve done enough’  without sounding ungrateful and without raising the hackles of the givers and hurting perhaps the closest and most intimate relationship Paul had with any congregation?     Rhetoric helps us as well see that the arguments that we have several letter fragments in Philippians is not merely weak,  it is simply wrong, and of course there never was any textual evidence anyway that we had multiple fragments welded together in Philippians.    Finally, the many major themes of importance in this discourse— joy in the Lord,  suffering for Christ,  following good examples,  resolving differences,  ignoring barking dogs that would lead one in wrong theological and ethical directions, building on the fellowship one already has in Christ,  bearing witness even within the inner sanctums of Roman power— to soldiers and those who work for Caesar in various ways raises issues of power and purpose and unity and Christ-likeness that seem powerful and poignant and pertinent for us today, at the cusp of the 21rst century.  Philippians is not a dead letter,  it is a living rhetorical discourse just as much for our own day and time as for Paul’s.

  • Eric Sawyer

    Hello Ben,
    I’m a very slow reader and am currently reading two commentaries (one by Douglas Moo ~ Romans, and another by Donald Carson ~ John), but my primary task is to work through the N.B.C (2010) and a few books that have been recommended by a friend from Theology Web Campus.
    Having read quite a few of your blog entries, as well as begun slowly reading NT History (Narrative Account) this is a nice surprise! :)
    Actually a few minutes ago I was reading through a forum post titled ‘There’s no evidence of the biblical jesus’ and came upon a rather odd comment by a bloke who calls himself ‘Tassman’:

    Witherington and Blomberg may have been properly trained and obtained their degrees, but that is just the beginning. As scholars they are required to use their expertise, not rest on their laurels. And they have chosen, of their own free will, to do just this in their own comfort zone of a tenured safe-haven from which to promulgate their supernatural beliefs.

    They are based in institutions which have Statements of Faith that must be assented to – “without mental reservation”. AND they chose to be there . They weren’t forced.

    Thus, they have no choice except to function on the unquestioned premise that the bible is the inspired ‘Word of God’. This is their starting position. It leaves them in the impossible position for any scholar to be in that truth claims made by a biblical text cannot be open to the possibility of refutation. Thus, by their own doing they have limited the field of enquiry and left unquestioned and sacrosanct important aspects of the Jesus story.

  • Eric Sawyer
  • Matt

    Congratulations Dr. Witherington! What an accomplishment!

  • Joshua

    I look forward to looking into this new commentary in due time, Dr. Witherington. I just finished your Socio-Rhetorical commentary on Romans so I look forward to delving into this new work of yours. Congratulations on the completion of it.

  • Klay Harrison

    So can we not expect a commentary on Luke or Matthew? I must have missed those two. Congrats on finishing these commentaries. I’ve enjoyed the ones I have read/used. I already have this on the wait list.

  • mike helbert

    Well done!
    I had the pleasure of working through “Conflict & Community in Corinth,” and am now tackling “Revelation.” I look forward to this new entry. Thang Q!

  • Ben Witherington

    Matthew has been out for a goodly while, Luke is coming in the Cambridge series when A.J. levine finishes her half.


  • Eric Sawyer

    When I get enough of the old smackeroonies, I’ll be sure to be looking around for the series. Blessings and thanks for your commitment to real scholarship. Eric.

  • Mike

    A new commentary? On Philippians? Yeaaaaaah!

    Opps sorry for the exuberance! Seriously – I have all your commentaries but the one on Matthew (hope to purchase that one soon) and I have your earlier work on Phillippians. I am looking forward tp purchasing it.

    A really good friend of mine and I have read your books for years now and have been amazed at your “prolific-ness”. We both have a question for you “When do you sleep?” :-)

    Congratulations on the new commentary.

    Now… off to Amazon to pre-order it!


  • yuckabuck

    Congratulations Ben!
    I own your commentary on Acts (a Christmas gift from my wife) and enjoyed it immensely. Hopefully I can get to read some more, as funds allow. :)
    So, what’s next? You have finished the commentaries and a 2 volume theology (with ethics). A Pauline theology? Perhaps the Old Testament? Or something outside the box?
    On a personal note, I want to thank you for maintaining a blog for so long. Fourteen years ago I was looking at going to Ashland Seminary but got turned in different directions. Now, I have just been accepted into the Counseling program there. Through the years it would have been easy to give up the dream and forget about theology and ministry, but I would come here and have the fire re-lit, so to speak. I have learned a lot from you on your various blogs (going back to Blogger in 2005!). I always thought it was crazy for a New testament professor to grant that kind of access to himself back then, but I certainly appreciated it.
    May God bless you on what comes next!
    Chuck Conti