Philippians. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. By Gordon D. Fee. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1999. 204 pp. Paper, $17.00.
This commentary, though written for a popular audience, and though lacking extensive mention of the Greek, reveals great depth of insight by Fee. One senses that he is merely sharing a small fraction about what he knows about Philippians.
The introduction is fantastic. Do not skip it, thinking you will move on to the good stuff. Note, for example, this gem, which comes at the end of Fee’s discussion of Paul’s use of the OT in Philippians: “To put it bluntly, we may rightly assume that these early Gentile believers knew the Old Testament—their only Bible!—infinitely better than most Christians do today” (p. 23). And under the heading “Opposition and Suffering” he makes this great point: “Opposition and suffering probably lie behind a further—seldom noted—major motif in the letter: Paul’s repeated emphasis on the believer’s sure future with its eschatological triumph” (p. 29). Fee does not adopt a Free Grace understanding of the letter. So for him the “eschatological triumph” is what he calls “final salvation” (e.g., p. 104). And though it says here (and on pp. 104-105) that the believer’s future is sure, he likely means that it is sure as long as the readers continue to follow Christ’s example of suffering.
JOTGES readers may be a bit disturbed by the vagueness in Fee’s discussion of passages dealing with “a good work” (Phil 1:6), “work[ing] out your own salvation (Phil 2:12), “attain[ing] to the resurrection of the dead” (Phil 3:11), and “seek[ing] the fruit that abounds to your account” (Phil 4:17). Fee says of the good work of Phil 1:6 that it might be the financial gifts of the Philippians, but “more likely, however, it refers to God’s good work of salvation itself” (p. 48, italics his). Of Phil 2:12 he says, “This is therefore not a text dealing with individual salvation but an ethical text dealing with the outworking of salvation in the believing community for the sake of the world” (p. 104). Another example of ambiguity is Fee’s explanation of Phil 3:11, “Conformity to Christ’s death in the present, made possible because of the power of Christ’s resurrection in the present, will be followed by our own resurrection from [among] the dead at the end. But the way Paul says it is a bit puzzling: somehow it seems to imply doubt” (p. 150, italics his). Though Fee goes on to explain why Paul seems to introduce doubt, his explanation itself is puzzling (pp. 150-51).
Fee does not evidence understanding of the Bema and of the concept of eternal rewards (though he does mention “eschatological reward” several times, but in each case he seems to be talking about “final salvation,” not special rewards that only some believers receive). However, one who understands these things can find much helpful information in this commentary. Fee does have a great grasp of what Paul is talking about; he simply can’t put it all together since he lacks the proper framework.
I highly recommend this commentary.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society