vrijdag 1 februari 2013

Review of: Gordon D. Fee, Paul's Letter to the Philippians (NICNT), Eerdmans, 1995

Gordon D. Fee, Paul's Letter to the Philippians (NICNT), Eerdmans, 1995

Review in: Interpretation 1997 51: 302
Review door: R. David Kaylor
Gevonden op: http://int.sagepub.com/content/51/3/302.full.pdf+html

Paul's Letter to the Philippians, by Gordon D. Fee. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1995. 497pp. $34.95. ISBN 0-8028-2522-7.

FEE CONTRIBUTES a second volume to this series (his first was on 1 Cor) for which he now serves as general editor. In keeping with the intent of the series to provide "critical yet orthodox commentary marked by solid biblical scholarship within the evangelical Protestant tradition," Fee offers a massive work that combines textual criticism; lexical, grammatical, and literary analysis; theological reflection; and contemporary application. Fee writes for two audiences: (1) parish ministers and teachers of scripture, with the aim of helping them see the letter "as the Word of God for a contemporary congregation"; and (2) scholars and classroom teachers. This twofold audience determines the arrangement and the approach. For the first audience, Fee keeps the text uncluttered and readable. For the second, extensive footnotes deal with technical matters of exegesis and engage other interpreters in debate.

Without much argument or discussion, Fee accepts traditional views on Philippians and other Pauline letters. He believes Philippians was a single letter written by Paul from Rome in the early 60s to his "friends and compatriots" in Philippi (p. 1). When Fee cites other letters, it is "in their presumed chronological order" (1 and 2 Thess, 1 and 2 Cor, Gal, Rom, Philem, Col, Eph, Phil, 1 Tim, Titus, 2 Tim). He does not explain why he believes the pastoral Epistles "ultimately derive from" Paul between 62 and 64 CE or what he means by the phrase.

In a lengthy introduction, Fee argues that Philippians is a single "hortatory letter of friendship" combining two types of Greco-Roman letters into a single kind, appropriate to the mutual bonding between Paul and the church in Christ. Paul is writing from Roman imprisonment to a church undergoing persecution, with internal stress but not division or strife. Fee contends that 2:6-11 comes from Paul; it is prose, not poetry, and it is "inextricably connected to the present context" grammatically and thematically (p. 46). The theological contributions of the letter, made through Paul's confessional and doxological language, include the urgency of the gospel, the Trinity as the "heart and soul" of Paul's theology, the centrality of Christ, eschatological urgency, and the cruciform nature of the Christian life.

In analyzing and commenting on this letter, Fee keeps before the reader certain fundamental ideas. First, the letter has a purposive unity, centered around the triangular relationship among Paul, the Philippian believers, and Christ. Paul's relationship with Christ is first and foremost. His imprisonment, his friendship with the Philippians, and his concern for what they are undergoing derive from and express the relationship with Christ. Second, the letter is full of concern for the gospel, for its progress, and for the Philippians; the progress of the gospel is tied up with the triangular relationship of Christ, Paul, and the Philippians. In discussing every section of the letter, Fee traces the way this theme determines the flow of Paul's thought. Third, Paul constantly stresses "like-mindedness," which means unity of spirit, a matter of attitude rather than concept. Both Christ and Paul provide examples of the right attitude, rejecting status and privilege for the sake of the gospel. Paul tells the story of Christ (2:6-11) so that the Philippians will adopt a "mind-set" (phroneite, 2:5) like Christ's, and he tells his story (3:4b-14) so that they will take a view in keeping with his own (phronömen, 3:15). Fourth, despite the letter's concern with unity, it is not a polemic against an "opposition." Fee argues that Paul assumes mutuality and friendship between himself and the Philippians as well as basic unity among the Philippians themselves. When he admonishes Euodia and Syntyche to agree (phronein, 4:2), the problem is not that they are opponents of each other or of Paul, but that "long-time friends and co-workers . . . have fallen on some bad times in terms of their 'doing the gospel' " (p. 389). The "dogs" of 3:2 ("apparently Jewish Christians who promote circumcision among Gentile believers") are not present in Philippi, though they "surely will have tried their wares in Philippi in times past" (p. 294). There is no present serious threat of 'Judaizing" in Philippi, and there is no hint of friction between Paul and the Philippians; rather, his exhortations are "best understood in the context of friendship" (p. 358).

The lack of opposition explains why Paul's use of the Old Testament in Philippians differs from that in other letters. Paul characteristically cites scripture to support his arguments using the expression "it is written." In Philippians, however, argument is not necessary since Paul shares with them a common understanding of the gospel. Paul therefore uses "intertextuality," consciously embedding Old Testament fragments into his text.

Fee displays extensive and intensive knowledge of the literature relating to Philippians and mastery of the tools of exegesis. For those who share his theological convictions, especially his view of scripture, it would be difficult to find a more excellent commentary. Those who resist the tendency to let theological assumptions determine exegetical outcomes will find difficulties precisely at this point. Is there really "an intentional Trinitarian substructure" here (see pp. 179, 302), or is Fee reading later theological constructs into Paul? Theological presuppositions may be reflected as well in Fee's handling of metaphor. For example, morphe (form) is not a metaphor when it characterizes Christ's being God, but it is a metaphor when it characterizes the way in which he is human (p. 204). "Emptying himself is a metaphor "pure and simple," and yet it "demands pre-existence," and "if it does not presuppose pre-existence the metaphor itself has been 'emptied'" (p. 210, n. 78).

Again, theological assumptions may be at work when Fee asserts that the exaltation of Christ in 2:9 presupposes the resurrection and ascension, even though there are no hints of these in the text itself, and one could as easily (and probably more accurately) argue that resurrection and ascension presuppose exaltation. Similar assumptions may lie behind Fee's intertextual readings: he sees a connection between 2:9 and Isa 45:23, even though "every knee shall bend" is a "common idiom for doing homage." Yet he rejects an intertextual connection between 2:6 and Genesis 2 because there is only a conceptual and not a linguistic link.

Predictably, given the stance of the commentary series, whenever there is an option for a more traditional, conservative theological reading of a passage, Fee adopts it. For example, Paul's assertion that every knee shall bend before Christ does not indicate universal salvation. Regarding a point that must be disappointing to the author as well as to the reader, Fee states approval of the new design of the commentary series that allows the volumes to lie flat on the table. His hope was disappointed; the reader has to fight the book to keep it open. All said, this is an impressive commentary, useful for anyone engaged in serious study of Philippians, whether or not one agrees with all its theology or exegetical detail.

R. David Kaylor
Davidson College Davidson, North Carolina

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