Book Reviews


Joseph H. Hellerman Nashville July 15, 2015

Joseph Hellerman has contributed significantly to the scholarly literature on Philippians, and he continues that as author of this volume in the Exegetical Guide to the New Testament series. Like other volumes in this series, this tool will help students work with the Greek text of the New Testament. Its purpose falls somewhere between a full commentary and a Greek tool. The volume is a Greek tool in the sense that it provides lexical and grammatical information for the entire book in a phrase-by-phrase manner. This is helpful because much early Greek learning occurs outside the context of full-length texts. This book brings the reader through the Greek of Philippians in a manner that will enhance understanding of the language and appreciation for how Greek contributes to interpreting the book. The volume is a commentary in the sense that it also interacts with other aspects of the exegetical process (albeit in a minimal way) to provide one with an interpretation of the text. Exegesis is more than reading and translating Greek. This volume will help the reader use and appreciate Greek as an interpretive tool without emphasizing it to the exclusion of other exegetical tools. This volume is intended for students at various levels of skill in Greek. However, it is best used by those who have completed an introductory course in the language. It uses the UBS5New Testament.

Hellerman includes a brief introduction that suggests Paul wrote a single letter from Rome in AD 60–62 in response to the church’s gift and also took the opportunity to instruct them on various matters (3–4). The introduction also discusses Hellerman’s cautious approaches to contributions of recent Greek verbal studies and rhetorical analysis (4–6). Intermediate Greek students will find nothing here to hinder their reading of the volume. An outline, recommended commentaries, and works cited complete the introduction (6–8).

After the introduction, Philippians is divided into literary units. Each unit is introduced by a section devoted to Greek structural analysis with comment. The second section is a verse-by-verse discussion of each phrase in the passage. This section will be the most helpful for the targeted readers and includes select parsing, grammatical comments, vocabulary, textual criticism, and analysis of important exegetical issues. Hellerman’s discussions are filled with references to grammars, translations, reference works, and other sources. When an exegetical issue with multiple options is discussed, Hellerman’s choice is indicated by an asterisk. Next the section called “For Further Study” offers brief bibliographies for specific points of interest in the passage. An asterisk indicates works that are especially helpful for introducing the reader to the issue. There are 61 such points of interest listed in the book. For example, the seven for Philippians 1:27–30 include “the gospel” (1:27), “Roman citizenship” (1:27), and “suffering” (1:29–30) (87–89). Finally, Hellerman makes a number of “homiletical suggestions” to help readers go from the Greek text to a sermon.

Hellerman’s exegetical discussions are helpful. As he has written extensively on Philippians 2:5–11, his brief comments here reflect years of interaction with the text. Although one can understand aspects of Jesus’s ontology from this passage, it is primarily sociological (105). This passage is intended to impact the way readers live their lives. Hellerman explains the Roman practice of cursus honorum in which the social elite tried to climb the social ladder (106–7). Christ in 2:6–11 does things differently. The text “unfolds in a way that would have directly subverted the expectations of a Roman colonial audience” (106). For μορφή (2:6), Hellerman correctly argues against translations such as the NIV, which has “in very nature God” (109–11). Instead, μορφή refers to “outward appearance” (110). This does not lower the Christology of the passage, since there is much more here than the use of a single word. The entire clause “most likely presents a ‘picture of the preexistent Christ clothed in the garments of divine majesty and splendor’” (110, citing O’Brien [1991]). Also, Hellerman interprets the participle ὑπάρχων (2:6) as concessive (“although he existed”) (111) and shows that ἐκένωσεν, “emptied” (2:7), does not require an object that needs to be emptied or removed but is “intended metaphorically to signify a lowering of rank (vis-á-vis v. 6) by means of the incarnation” (114). Hellerman’s discussion walks the reader through Philippians highlighting the interpretive use of Greek. When debated issues arise, he gives the most common options and then provides a reasoned solution.

As noted above, this volume is not a major commentary or reference work for Philippians. Instead, in addition to its use as a Greek learning tool, Hellerman’s volume can be used as a supplement to one or more major commentaries in order to enhance one’s study of the book. In the introduction Hellerman mentions the six primary commentaries he used: Fee (New International Commentary on the New Testament, 1995), Hansen (Pillar New Testament Commentary, 2009), Martin and Hawthorne (Word Biblical Commentary, 2004), O’Brien (New International Greek Testament Commentary, 1991), Reumann (Anchor Bible, 2008), and Silva (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2nd ed., 2005) (6–7). These are excellent and can be used for a much more detailed study of Philippians. However, due to the difficulty of using Reumann, most Bible students could replace it with Bockmuehl’s short but helpful commentary in the Black’s New Testament Commentary series (this is listed as an “occasional use” commentary, 7).

The volume concludes with an exegetical outline (pp. 281–83) and two indexes: grammar and Scripture passages (pp. 285–97). This is the fourth volume in this growing series that began with a revision of Murray Harris’s Colossians and Philemon (2010). Unfortunately the newer volumes do not include the full translation and expanded paraphrase that were in the Harris volume. These helped summarize the exegetical decisions made throughout. Nevertheless, the student with a year or equivalent of Greek will benefit greatly from this volume.

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