Philippians is rightly one of the most popular letters of Paul. Highly quotable verses such as Philippians 1:6; 1:21; 2:5; 3:13-14; 3:20-21; 4:6-7; 4:8; 4:13; and 4:19 are lodged in the minds of many. As such, fresh study of the letter is always enjoyable. I had heard good things about Matthew Harmon’s Philippians commentary, and so I used it in my recent preaching through the letter. Let me say up front, it is truly excellent!
The commentary begins with a thorough 46 page introduction, including authorship, historical and social situation, Paul’s circumstances, provenance, integrity, literary structure, purpose, identity of opponents, key theological themes, the use of the OT, and oddly, an excursus on the OT background to Phil 2:5-11 (why not include it in the commentary?). He takes traditional positions on authorship, provenance (Roman imprisonment), and unity of the letter. Though Harmon does not suggest anything unconventional in his introduction, it is thorough and well-reasoned. What’s more, it reflects recent scholarly interests such as the imperial cult, use of the OT, and the influence of Isaiah.
In the commentary proper, each unit of text begins with a basic outline, summary, verse by verse commentary, and suggestions for preaching/teaching. All technical details are placed in the footnotes, and the body text is uncluttered and readable. Commentary includes information on Greek words, social setting, theology, and flow of thought. I did not find my own views of the letter substantially challenged, but freshly invigorated. Particularly useful was Harmon’s literary structure of the letter; the best I’ve encountered so far.
Harmon has skilfully produced an approachable commentary with deep scholarly foundations. Somehow he manages to walk that tightrope and makes it look simple. Having taught through Philippians several times at a Bible college, I knew how useful Silva and especially Fee could be. However, I constantly found myself returning to Harmon because he managed to capture the most useful and pertinent information for my preaching.
Philippians is recommended for pastors and Bible teachers as well as interested laymen. Pastors who want sustained engagement with the Greek would want to supplement this with Fee (NICNT) or Silva (BECNT). This is not to say that Harmon is a slouch in this area; it’s just not the focus of the series. As he says, “my focus [is] on those serving in ministry” (p8). Harmon somehow juggles pastoral sensitivity, exegetical depth, scholarly foundations, practical sermon advice and brevity. If a teacher picked up only one commentary, as much as Fee remains my personal favourite, I would now recommend Harmon’s Philippians as providing a perfect balance for the teacher’s task.
Many thanks to Christian Focus for providing a review copy!