Philippians: Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. By Joseph H. Hellerman, Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishing Group, 2015. 297 pp. Paper, $29.99.
The book of Philippians is of interest to readers of the JOTGES because of certain verses that are often taken to indicate that works are either necessary for eternal life or are required to prove one has been eternally saved. This commentary by Hellerman addresses these issues.
As the subtitle indicates, there is a heavy emphasis on the Greek of the text. The author discusses each verse and breaks down each verse into Greek phrases. There is a Greek exegetical outline of each verse as well. While this may scare off some readers who do not know Greek, the author discusses each phrase in a way that is easy to understand. Even so, the discussion is generally technical and the beginning Bible student may find it difficult to follow.
Hellerman discusses the different views of the passages and how recent scholarship understands them. The good news is that, as a general rule, he shows that the common Lordship understanding of certain verses in Philippians is not the only alternative. The bad news is that when given the different options, he usually opts for the Lordship view.
There are a number of relevant passages in Philippians associated with Free Grace theology and the discussions on these verses might determine the value of the book for readers of the JOTGES. In 1:5, Hellerman says that the “fellowship in the Gospel” is not a reference to the eternal life possessed by the Philippians, but of their participation in the work of evangelism (p. 24). In the same discussion, he says that the “good work” in 1:6 includes the idea of evangelism but has a broader meaning as well. He does this with very little discussion and concludes that this work does not simply mean their work in advancing the Gospel but also includes their final glorification (p. 25).
It is interesting to note that Hellerman sees a theme in the book of Philippians that is related to 1:5. That verse forms a bookend with 4:10-19. This ties the book together around a theme of advancing the Gospel. To this reviewer, that is the key to understanding 1:6.
While recognizing that “salvation” in 1:19 does not refer to eternal life, he says that it does in 1:28. This view is significant because in both cases this salvation is the result of some effort on the part of either Paul or the Philippians. He recognizes that these interpretative decisions are difficult, but believes that in the case of 1:28, the meaning of the term is determined by 1:6. While there are options, how one determines the meaning in one verse will determine the meaning in another. However, Hellerman is not consistent, as his understanding of 1:19 indicates.
Another commonly used verse in Philippians is 2:12. There, Paul says that the Philippian believers must “work out” their salvation. Hellerman says that the term “salvation” can either mean eternal salvation or have a “sociological” meaning. The latter would mean Paul is talking about ethical salvation that relates to the advancement of the gospel through ethical living and the “relational health of the church at Philippi” and not eternal salvation (pp. 130-31). Hellerman finds support in the context of 1:27–2:18 for such a view of salvation.
Hellerman also points out that recent scholarship recognizes that the idea of working out one’s salvation with works has difficulties with Paul’s teaching about justification in the books of Romans and Galatians. Although the discussion allows for a non-traditional view of salvation in 2:12, in the end Hellerman believes that the word involves both eternal salvation and the outworking of that salvation in the believing community at Philippi.
Perhaps the most disappointing discussion concerns 3:11, where Paul says that he hopes to attain to the resurrection of the dead. Hellerman believes that Paul is talking about eternal salvation here, and once again Hellerman recognizes that this at face value contradicts Paul’s assurance of resurrection in other places. As in 2:12, he takes a view that combines two views. He says that Paul is saying that in order to be resurrected a believer must be conformed to the death of Christ. However, Paul is humble enough to recognize that salvation is a gift from God and he “dare not presume on this divine mercy” (pp. 191-92). It is difficult for the reviewer to see how this does not destroy the assurance of one’s salvation. Unfortunately, unlike with his discussions on the meaning of the word “salvation,” Hellerman does not mention other possibilities here. This is the only place Paul uses this word for “resurrection,” a point that Hellerman notes. Other options would include the idea that Paul is referring to a life that either pleases Christ at the Bema or one that is victorious over the flesh in this life.
The value of this commentary is that Hellerman recognizes that the book of Philippians as a whole at least challenges common views of theology. There is an emphasis in Philippians on the advancement of the gospel in evangelism. To Hellerman, this does not mean that the common views are incorrect, but in these areas he gives food for thought. Throughout the commentary Hellerman gives resources for further study. At least in the area of the meaning of “salvation” in Philippians, such resources may be helpful. While not written from a Free Grace perspective, the commentary can be of use in some areas. It is of value for those who want to see how some who are not Free Grace struggle with what seem to be inconsistencies in Paul’s writings on salvation and assurance. For those, I recommend this commentary.
Ken W. Yates
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society