This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2011 vol. 168 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Philippians: A Commentary in the Wesleyan TraditionBeacon Hill Press of Kansas City, Kansas City, MO February 15, 2009
Flemming has written a helpful commentary on the Book of Philippians. Although the series is explicitly Wesleyan, the author acknowledges that one should not impose anything over the Scriptures that keeps them from challenging one’s tradition (p. 44). Thus both Wesleyans and others should be able to use this work with benefit. Flemming’s interpretations are predicable in places, but he is always fair. Those who disagree with him have a qualified scholar with whom to dialogue. Also those who agree with him will not necessarily be confirmed with certainty regarding some interpretations of the text. This volume contributes to the understanding that there is much more agreement between theological systems than disagreement. More importantly, this commentary will provide many serious Bible students with a concise yet helpful treatment of Philippians.
In an introduction of twenty-four pages Flemming packs a wealth of introductory material necessary for understanding Philippians. He discusses the history of the city and Paul’s founding of the church (pp. 22–24). He argues effectively for the epistle’s composition during a Roman imprisonment in A.D. 60–62, adding brief but helpful details about the experience of Roman imprisonment (pp. 24–27). Flemming suggests that Paul’s reason for writing the epistle is based in part on the apostle’s own circumstances (gratitude for the Philippians’ gift, etc.), but its larger purpose was to help the church become Christlike and to encourage the church to continue in the partnership of the gospel (pp. 27–30).
Flemming includes a careful discussion of the classification of the letter and concludes that because it contains elements of a number of types of letters (friendship, thankfulness, moral encouragement, etc.), it is best to see it as a mixed form (pp. 30–33). Further he discusses the rhetorical nature of the letter and argues for a unified letter (pp. 33–39). Next Flemming briefly describes key themes in Philippians: Christ’s story, surpassing knowledge of Christ, gracious work of God, living in response to God’s gracious work (cruciform living), and partnership in the gospel (pp. 39–42). Flemming concludes the introduction with a description of his approach in which he explicitly states his high view of Scripture and his theological background.
The commentary discusses each passage with a specific introduction and three sections. First, “Behind the Text” is devoted to background information intended to provide important details helpful in understanding the passage. This is an excellent idea; however, the claim by the editor that the goal of this section is to “provide the reader with all the relevant information necessary to understand the text” (p. 7) is far too lofty. Second, “In the Text” is a verse-by-verse commentary based on the New International Version. Flemming discusses the text in a manner that reveals the flow of the argument of Philippians. As one would expect in a commentary of this size, some things of interest to readers will be missed and there is minimal Greek discussion. Third, “From the Text” includes discussions about issues that have arisen from the passage. Among other things this includes theological clarification and applicational comments.
In his brief discussion (pp. 105–27) of the Christological hymn (2:6–11), Flemming touches on most issues and provides helpful information on the text. He attempts to strike a balance between man’s responsibility and God’s work in 2:12–13 that is more driven by the text than his own theological tradition (although this reviewer does not think he breaks from his tradition). While there are other solutions here, his discussion is helpful.
Flemming’s commentary is not innovative. However, for interested Bible students who have not had extensive training in Philippians, it will be beneficial. Its format is easy to follow, and its size makes it ideal for personal or group Bible study.
Also occasionally Flemming includes brief quotations from famous Christians (e.g., Wesley, Bonhoeffer) and small relevant topical notes (e.g., Paul and athletic competitions, women leaders in Philippi) that serve to highlight a topic in the commentary.
Flemming is well versed in the literature on Philippians. He interacts with both excellent commentaries and monographs. The brief size and theological subtitle of this work should not result in this work being dismissed. In fact for its size it does an admirable job of providing a helpful interpretation of Philippians.
—Joseph D. Fantin