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Paul's Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary Paperback – October 6, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


Jerry L. Sumney
-- Lexington Theological Seminary
"Drawing on an impressive range of interpreters (including those who have critiqued his previous work), Ben Witherington provides a careful and helpful reading of Philippians and the issues it addresses. His lucid prose guides both beginning and practiced readers through the argumentative function of each section, consistently affirming that rhetorical criticism is the most appropriate lens for reading Paul's work. At the same time, Witherington's socio-rhetorical method leads him to highlight the ways that seeing the letter in its Greco-Roman and Macedonian social and cultural contexts enriches our understanding. . . . This commentary is certain to become a work that students and teachers will refer to often."

Todd D. Still
-- Truett Seminary, Baylor University
"When a commentator of Ben Witherington's skill, experience, and stature turns his learned eye and directs his limpid prose to Paul's beloved letter to the Philippians, expectations are exceedingly high. This latest installment in Witherington's socio-rhetorical commentary series does not disappoint. . . . His commentary on Philippians is a substantial, serious work that will occupy a place on my bookshelf alongside Bockmuehl and Fee. It is among the finest full-length commentaries presently available in English."

Biblical Theology Bulletin
"This commentary offers readers an introduction to Philippians that would be useful in the context of upper division undergraduate as well as beginning seminary courses."

"There is much to commend about this commentary. Witherington's interpretations are solid and balanced. . . . His insights will surely be valuable to Christian readers of all traditions. . . . This commentary combines right insights into the text with gifted writing. It will be a fine addition to the library of students, pastors, and teachers."

Bulletin for Biblical Research
"Given the breadth of Witherington's knowledge of ancient and modern sources, the wisdom of his pastoral insights, and the liveliness of his prose, this commentary belongs on the shelves of many in the church and in the academy."

About the Author

Imminent Domain: The Story of the Kingdom of God and Its Celebration,
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Eerdmans (October 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802801439
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802801432
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #815,160 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Having written a two-volume New Testament Theology, a commentary on every book in New Testament, and a previous commentary on Philippians (Friendship and Finances in Philippi, 1994), Ben Witherington now brings his skill and experience to a socio-rhetorical commentary on Philippians. He mildly regrets the previous work's title, as he did not then nor does he now consider Philippians a friendship letter. With time he has found the analysis of Philippians as a friendship letter less and less persuasive (14). Philippians is not simply a revision of the earlier work but "a whole new study from scratch including a fresh translation" (x).
The work includes an index of subjects, authors, and ancient sources. After 13 pages of bibliography and a 37-page introduction, Witherington comes to the commentary proper.

The format is as follows:

1. Section Introduction: The introduction surveys the section, sets it in context, and opens discussion of key topics. Introductions are helpful without being overly redundant.

2. Translation:
a. "Here, as in previous socio-rhetorical commentaries, the translation is not in fluid English prose but seeks, rather, to give as clear a sense in English as possible of the vocabulary and syntax of the Greek" (41 n.1).
b. At times Witherington's translation clarifies issues and opens up fresh possibilities. At times it gives odd renderings (e.g., the translation of 1:16-17, p 74).
c. Forms of adelphoi(brothers) are translated as "brothers and sisters" at 1:12 and 14, but only as "brothers" in the rest of the letter (3:1, 13, 17, 4:1, 8 and 21). Given Witherington's egalitarian concerns, this is surprising.
d. It would have been helpful if verse numbers were given in the translation.

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Format: Paperback
I have read a number of books by Witherington, notably "The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth", and he has always impressed me. Not a lot of biblical scholars are good writers. He is. Anybody, even someone without any background in biblical scholarship, could pick up and understand what he is saying. And his scholarship is always topnotch.

One of my interests in Philippians is with the possible hymn to Christ embedded in it. And what's so fascinating about the hymn is that it must date to the very earliest followers of Christ, likely to the first ten years after the crucifixion of Christ.

Witherington argues that the possible hymn, Phil. 2.5-11 "is pre-Pauline material which Paul adopts and adapts for his present rhetorical purposes" (p 132).

Of course some commentators have argued against the passage as a hymn. However, there is no gainsaying the fact that hymns played an important part in early Christianity. Pliny remarks on Christians meeting "at dawn to sing antiphonal hymns to Christ as to a god" (p 134) and Paul mentions hymns in 1 Cor. 14.26 and other places.

Although the hymn, argues Witherington, was likely composed in Greek, not Aramaic, the fact remains that "Jewish Christian worship patterns owed much to synagogue practices, which included the chanting of psalms" (p 136).

So, given the importance of hymns, it would be strange if we didn't see evidence of them in Paul.

What Paul proposes in Philippians goes against the values of ancient society, which valued wealth, power, and pleasure. Paul insists Christians see "their own suffering on behalf of Christ (p 105) as having a place in the "redemptive plan of God" (p 105).
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Format: Paperback
Ben Witherington III, Amos Professor of New Testament at Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, finished his series of commentaries on the New Testament with his treatment of Philippians.

Witherington focuses his interpretation on a number of standard commentary paths. He surveys existing commentaries and provide exegetical notes throughout. What sets Witherington's work apart from other standard commentaries is his consideration of the social and rhetorical realities of Paul's epistle.

Witherington examines the social custom of Philippi and sees a Roman colony where all things Roman are held in high esteem. Given Paul's pattern of being all things in order to proclaim Christ, we should not easily overlook his willingness to employ Roman rhetoric and refer to Roman custom in reaching the people of Philippi.

By taking heed of this Witherington shows Philippians not to be an ordinary friendship or family letter addressed to a beloved congregation, but rather a nuanced oration to be read aloud and shared by those who were accustomed to such. Paul, a practiced speaker of the gospel, used his rhetorical abilities to communicate to the Philippians in the manner appreciated most by them - the Roman way. According to Witherington, " Analyzing Philippians as deliberative rhetoric with some epideictic features allows the aims and purpose of this discourse to become increasingly clear: Paul wants the Philippians to continue embracing their Christian faith and model themselves on godly examples, especially the example of Christ himself, as Phil. 2 makes evident."

Witherington also takes time to view the role of woman in Philippi as a means of understanding what the role if any the females mentioned in the letter may have had in the church.
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