PHILIPPIANS VOL 43 REV ED HB (Word Biblical Commentary) Hardcover – 23 Mar 2006
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I will begin with the good. The bibliographical notes in this volume are intense, and well-ordered. But as one who has no firm background in Pauline research, there's no good way for me to assess the quality of their sources at a glance or without access to a pretty well-stocked seminary library. Nevertheless, the catalog of works listed is luxuriant and for anyone who wishes to go into further detail on those points of theology that the authors chose to stress, everything you'd need is there.
Bad stuff comes next, and I'll follow the order of the list I presented in the title of this work. First of all, this volume was clearly made with the preacher and not the academic researcher in mind, and it addresses its reading audience through frequent insertion of rhetorical questions in the middle of the text. The occasional application of this technique naturally serves to spice up the otherwise unrelieved mud of exegetical prose, but the writers took it to an extreme, layering one question after another in spates. In extreme cases, cascades of rhetorical inquisition can fill close to a third of the page, as at the top of 155 where six interrogative sentences come in a row. The ultimate effect is that the style of the writing seems off sometimes, though I can see how purposely raising questions in the middle of the text would be of value to someone who later wishes in his or her preaching to raise them in the face of a congregation. But to the reader who wishes simply to understand the New Testament, it offers only frustration. It's possible that this is the result of influence shown in the Editorial Preface where the General Editors state that "[t]he broad stance of our contributors can rightly be called evangelical, and this term is to be understood in its positive, historic sense of a commitment to Scripture as divine revelation and to the truth and power of the Christian gospel," so I assume (but do not know!) that many of the contributors were familiar with Christian scholarship being intimately tied to the social act of the pulpit.
Secondly, some of the translations are strange, and show obvious interpretation of text before work began. The rendition of 2.3 is particularly telling in this way. The authors write "[d]o not act out of a spirit of rivalry, nor out of empty conceit. Act rather with humility and consider others better than yourselves," but this is an obvious torquing of the original text, and not one born out by the vagaries of transmission either. Instead of "consider others better than yourselves", which is a fundamentally outward-oriented statement with implications that the congregation is to be actively involved in humble acts without its circle, the word given as "others" is actually "allelous" in the original, better rendered "each other". This means that the English should be presented "consider each other better than yourselves," which could be read as an injunction to be inward-looking and secluded. I thought this an unusual rendering of a possibly important restriction placed on Christian life, and hoped for illumination to be provided in the commentary (p. 88). But there was none. There are many other examples of this practice throughout the work.
Finally, really difficult issues in the Epistle are often glossed over in the interpretation. I was particularly interested in seeing the authors' treatment of 2.15 (their translation: "in order that you may become blameless, faultless, [and] flawless, the children of God surrounded by crooked and perverse people. Shine among them like lights in the sky.") because in referring to non-Christians as "crooked and perverse", he clearly seems to be making a statement about the role of the unconverted in Christian society. But the only treatment given in the comment on this verse is (p. 145) "[i]t is difficult, on this showing, however, to see where the Gentiles fit into the Pauline schema." There's no further explanation given or any views of any earlier scholars provided. This is an interesting question and a potentially important part of Paul's thought and worldview! The willingness displayed to simply let a difficult point such as this one drop -- and there are others as well -- is frustrating and unprofessional; the least the writers could have done would have been to provide information on sources and established ideas.
Two stars is a low rating, and I feel that I might have been too harsh. But the second and third issues I listed above are major, intentional breaches of academic principle, and I felt like Hawthorne and Martin were attempting to either mislead me or gloss over controversy in the hope that I wouldn't ask questions. I'm looking at a copy of Philippians (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries) now, and I hope that the work done by Yale will be superior.
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