Eerdmans, 2009. (Available in Australia at Koorong books)
The book of Philippians has been well served by evangelical and/or conservative commentaries over the past several decades. A dozen solid works at least have appeared between, say, Martin’s 1959 TNTC commentary and Hansen’s new work. Some of the better ones include O’Brien (NIGNT, 1991); Fee (NICNT, 1995); Thielman (NIVAC, 1995); Bockmuehl (BNTC, 1997); Silva (BECNT, 2005); and Fowl (THNTC, 2005).
Thus a lot of good commentary has already been produced on this important epistle of Paul’s. Here in some 350 pages the Fuller Seminary professor offers a very helpful and workmanlike treatment. He has already penned a shorter commentary on Galatians (IVPNTC, 1994).
He offers 35 pages of introductory material. Pauline authorship is of course assumed here (it has not really been questioned with this book). Debate does arise as to the integrity of the book, however. After carefully assessing the arguments for the thesis that Philippians is actually a combination of several letters written at differing times, Hansen defers to the traditional argument that this book is one complete letter.
The occasion of the letter is fairly straightforward in terms of issues being addressed. Three major problems have to be tackled: disunity in the ranks; suffering in the community; and opponents of the church.
Consider the issue of opponents. As is often the case in Paul’s letters, exact identification of the opponents is hard to fully determine. Indeed, some 18 different options have been proposed thus far. Hansen suggests that at least four main groupings can be identified: “ambitious preachers, intimidating powers, Jewish Christian teachers, and enemies of the cross”.
The many great themes found in this epistle have not been without their fair share of controversy and debate. In fact, one of the grandest portions of this letter, the hymn of Christ (2:6-11) has been a minefield of hermeneutical and exegetical difficulties and debate, not to mention theological uncertainties.
Plenty of issues need to be addressed, including the author of the hymn (if indeed it even is a hymn – that too is the subject of much discussion). Did Paul write this, or was he using a pre-existing hymn used in early church worship?
As usual, Hansen is quite fair in allowing the differing points of view a hearing. He canvasses the five main lines of evidence in this discussion, and looks at the four main contenders if Paul did not write this. Says Hansen, “The arguments for and against Pauline authorship are finely balanced”. After weighing up the data, he sides with Martin in suggesting that Stephen may have penned it.
All sorts of other contentious issues arise in these few verses, such as what ‘being in the form of God’ means; how we translate and understand harpagmos in verse 6; how Christ emptied himself, or what he emptied himself of; and so on.
Consider that last item. It has been hotly debated for centuries now. Hansen presents three main proposals (out of many). The kenotic theory (which comes in various forms) says that Christ emptied himself of his divinity during his time on earth. The incarnation view sees this emptying in terms of him becoming a slave. The Servant of the Lord view ties this passage into the Servant Song of Isaiah 53, (specifically verse 12).
Hansen looks at the pros and cons of each position, and finds himself in agreement with how the TNIV renders the phrase in question: “he made himself nothing”. This “contains some elements of all three alternative interpretations considered above”.
Suffice it to say that much ink has been spilled on the various lexical, hermeneutical and theological questions which abound here. Hansen does a good job of introducing the various debates and difficulties, and suggesting why he prefers certain options.
Of course there is much more to these four chapters of Paul’s than just 2:6-11. But his treatment of this section tells us much about how he has approached the book as a whole. What he does is offer a consistently helpful piece of commentary and exposition here.
It is clear that he is well read on the various issues and the relevant literature. He is careful in laying out competing views of hotly debated passages, and is fair and even-handed in how he handles these debates.
As part of the Pillar New Testament Commentary series, this book offers a mid-range critical commentary which is neither too light, nor overly technical and obtuse. Indeed, since Hansen has years of pastoral experience, he here offers a nice blend of careful scholarship and pastoral concerns.
Fee’s commentary may be among the best overall commentaries on this book, and O’Brien’s is likely the best commentary utilising the Greek text. But this volume fits in very nicely with the best of recent treatments of Philippians. It is well laid out, carefully thought through, nicely written and judiciously argued. It will make a very worthy addition to anyone’s library on the book of Philippians.