Book Notice: Ben Witherington’s new Philippians Commentary

Ben Witherington
Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011.
Available at Amazon.com

This new volume in the SRC series is not simply a rehash of BW3’s earlier Philippians volume (Friendship and Finances in Philippi: The Letter of Paul to the Philippians [Harrisburg, PA: TPI, 1994]), but constitutes a fresh engagement with the letter in light  of the explosion of recent studies on Philippians in recent years. BW3 call Philippians a much “beloved” and “belabored” document (p. 1). He thinks that that the letter more of a family letter than a letter of friendship (pp. 15-19) and he contends for a Roman provenance (pp. 9-11). He sees Philippians as embodying primarily a deliberate rhetoric with some epideictic features as well (pp. 14, 25).  With many scholars, BW3 rejects partition theories for Philippians (pp. 15-17). It is also good to see BW3 interacting a lot of E.A. Judge on the importance of social-history for study of Paul’s letters.

BW3 regards the Christ-hymn as focused on ethics (p. 117). There is also a very helpful excursus on the Christ-hymn in recent discussion (pp. 132-36). In his famous “Bridging the Horizon” section he comments here: “When ancient Greco-Roman persons were told that God had died for them so that they might have life and have it abundantly, they had a right to conclude that God is nothing like the selfish, self-absorbed, self-centered, self-honoring deities on Mount Olympus. As M. Hooker puts it, it is precisely on the cross and in the Son’s self-emptying and humiliation on the cross that we learn what is the actual character of our God. Our God is not about grabbing but about giving, not about self-glorification but about self-sacrifice, not about predetermining all things, but about making possible the salvation of all things, not about repeatedly demonstrating his sovereignty in some self-absorbed way, but rather revealing the divine character through the shock and awe of death on a cross” (p. 168).

Out of all BW3’s SR commentaries, the one’s I’ve liked the most are his one’s on Acts, 1-2 Corinthians, Mark, and now I’d add to it, his Philippians volume.

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