Philippians: Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries

John Reumann Yale University Press, New Haven, CT December 2, 2008
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Reumann views Philippians as consisting of three letters: (a) 4:10–20 (A.D. 54, no indication of imprisonment); (b) 1:1–3:1 and probably parts of 4:1–9, 21–23 (late A.D. 54 or early A.D. 55 from a prison in Ephesus); and (c) 3:2–21 and possibly parts of 4:1–9 (late A.D. 55, no indication of imprisonment). Reumann believes that in A.D. 90–100 (p. 3) these were combined to form one letter.

Like other Anchor Yale Bible commentaries (previously Anchor Bible), the discussion of each passage includes four parts. First, the author’s translation is presented. Second, “Notes” is a collection of views, lexical and grammatical observations, historical matters, and so forth. This information is the “raw material for exposition” (p. xviii). Third, “Comment” includes two sections: the first discusses sources and forms, and the second gives the author’s interpretation of the text. Then a select bibliography is included. Often many views are presented in the “Notes” section, but conclusions are not given until later in the “Comment B” section. The author must choose whether to be redundant or to demand extra work from the reader either to remember the earlier discussion in detail or to find it when a specific issue or verse is of interest. The volume concludes with three indexes (general, authors, and Scripture and other ancient texts (pp. 745–805).

Reumann is thorough in his selection of issues and in discussing various views. In 1:6, in the “Notes” section, he gives three options for “good works” (pp. 112–14). He concludes in the “Comment B” section that both God’s work and the people doing God’s work are intended (p. 152).

Reumann devotes about fifty pages to discussion of 2:5–11. He rejects the label “hymn” and prefers the classification of “encomium,” a rhetorical form of praise or blame (e.g., pp. 333, 339). He considers background, form, sources, and others, and concludes that this was a composition by the Philippians themselves (pp. 363–64). Reumann also considers the relationship of Paul and the Philippians to the Roman authorities and how this passage would be read in that context (p. 369).

Different opponents are mentioned in the letter. Those preaching Christ out of selfish ambition (1:14–18) were Ephesian preachers who proclaimed the correct gospel but may have been upset with Paul’s use of his citizenship to appeal to Caesar (pp. 202–7). In 1:28 the opponents were Roman authorities and some of the people in Philippi (pp. 278–79). And the warning in 3:2–4 is against an “aggressive Jewish-Christian missionary group stressing circumcision (and therefore the Law)” (p. 470).

The book has so much detail that sometimes the argument is difficult to follow. This is complicated by the format. For example in the “Notes” section, concerning 3:9d, ejpi th/' pivstei, Reumann gives a number of options for the meaning of “faith.” This reads like a collection of commentators on the passage. To be fair, there is some connection between the comments (pp. 496–98). However, it is easy to get lost in the details. In the end he provides no solution here. The author’s preference is not noted until the “Comment B” section (p. 521).

This commentary is a massive tome. However, it appears to be only a fraction of Reumann’s original work of 2,800 pages plus another 1,200 on relevant portions of Acts (p. xvii). He had hoped to publish a supplementary volume, but he passed away just before the commentary was released. The task of trimming this work may account for some of the criticism discussed above.

This will probably not be the primary commentary for most pastors and Bible students. There are at least four reasons for this. First, it probably includes much more detail than their needs demand. Second, its inclusions of many scholarly issues will not have direct application for most pastors’ tasks unless they are particularly interested in such issues. Third, discussions often assume prior knowledge of particular issues. Fourth, its format is not easy to follow. This will be a drawback for busy pastors.

There are, however, at least three ways to use this commentary. First, some, especially scholars, will want to carefully read (or study) each section consecutively. This will place a high demand on the reader. Second, one may wish to go verse by verse, a single verse at a time, through all the sections. Reading the comments on a specific verse means readers will need to move around in the volume, but it will keep the details of the various sections in the forefront of the reader’s mind. Third, some may read and use the “Comment B” section and go to other sections only as interest or needs demand. This will probably be the best approach for most pastors.

One important strength of this commentary is the author’s sensitivity to the context in which the book was written. Despite little in the introduction, Reumann refers to the historical background and potential influences as appropriate (pp. 262–64, 335–38), including the Roman imperial context (p. 584). Also the amount of literature cited is impressive. The “Notes” section often consists of lists of statements by commentators and other scholars. Reumann has left few stones unturned.

This commentary has great value and should be consulted. Especially helpful and more accessible are the “Comment B” sections with the author’s interpretation of the text. Also this commentary provides options that are not included in smaller ones. This is almost more a dictionary of “all things Philippians” than a commentary.

—Joseph D. Fantin

July 1, 2011
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2011 vol. 168 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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