Book Review: Philippians (PGC)

Reviewing commentaries is a tricky business – particularly for me as a generalist, and an in-publisher editor of commentaries! I tend to offer my review based on the format and content of the volume, and it’s utility or otherwise to preachers and pastors. Occasionally I’ll digress into particularly theological or stylistic quirks.

I picked up this attractively presented volume from the Hendricksen stand at SBL/AAR 2022 – and worked through it devotionally. An early volume in their new ‘Preacher’s Greek Companion’ (PGC) series (which has a Hebrew counterpart for Old Testament books), this is not a full commentary, but rather, as it’s subtitle makes clear, ‘A Selective Commentary for Meditation and Sermon Preparation’. The author, McDonough, is the New Testament series editor for the Preachers Companion series, so this felt like a good one to start with! The aim of the series, according to the preface, “is togently guide you,the busy preacher, through the Greek text of select biblical passages ina way that will empower you to integrate original-language exegesis and homiletics” (p. xi). The ultility of this series, then, will depend on the readers ability with the relevant biblical language. Personally, my NT Greek is ropey but not non-existent – and I found this volume a helpful sharpener and refresher. It’s worth noting that this is very selective in it’s commentary – I think you’d certainly want more resources if you were preparing sermons – but for a devotional/meditative read through, I think McDonough has struck a healthy balance.

The Greek text used in the series, and in this volume, is going to be a key thing for readers considering whether to take a look at the series. With that in mind, somewhat unusually, I thus quote an entire footnote:

The Greek text used in this series is that of the 1885 Westcott-Hort edition of the New Testametn, as printed in B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, The Greek New Testament, with Expanded Dictionary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008). For interested readers, text-critical variants for the passages included in the presentvolume are presented at the end of the volume” (p. xiii-xiv).

For some, the fact that it isn’t Nestle-Aland 28, the SBL Greek NT, or even the edition produced at Tyndale House and published by Crossway, will be a deal-breaker. As a non-specialist, I’ll stick my neck out and say that for most pastors and preachers, and certainly for irregular preachers like myself, this probably isn’t a massive issue – and the book could be used alongside a preferred Greek NT with minimal frustration. If, however, like me your NT Greek is not that strong, then I think this volume and this series is likely to be a helpful prompt to improve it, practice it, and think about how to use it in preaching.

The ‘selective’ aspect of the series is worth noting. Firstly, though not relevant here, it sometimes means that just selections of a biblical book are printed – further demonstrating that this is not a full commentary. Secondly, it means that commentary is not made consistently or on every passage. That is no bad thing, necessarily, but it is worth noting. In this the PGC differs from, say, B&H Academic’s EGGNT series, the Acts volume of which I recently reviewed.

In terms of an aid to preaching, the pages of Greek (Which are a good quality white paper, with nicely laid out and spaced clear type – it’s a pleasurable book to read and handle) are interspersed with’ From Text to Sermon’ pages, with suggested prompts for preaching. A short sentence summarizes the ‘Big Idea’ of the passage, followed by a more expanded paragraph on ‘Bridge to Theology’. This is followed by ‘Illustrations’, which are thankfully not cheesy anecdotes, but rather what seemed to me to be quite useful prompts and ideas for fleshing out a sermon. This volume will not give you a sermon to copy verbatim, but it will give you the tools to start to prepare one.This is where the more general and thematic ‘commentary’, as it is, can be found, as well as peppered amongst the Greek sections. Both parts of the ‘commentary’, where comments exist, tends towards the practical and helpful, rather than the complex or particularly theological:

  • real love is not just a feeling – it means doing things that in fact help others” (p. 22)
  • joy sits alongside grief as a legitimate emotion for the Christian… Rejoicing and lament both have a place in the journey of faith” (p. 119)
  • Jesus really is a king, not just a spiritual guide; and his rule informs all of life, not just ‘spiritual’ matters” (p. 159)

As a relatively unique format of ‘commentary’, in some ways this is a difficult book to review. The aforementioned EGGNT is closer to a full commentary – this is more a book I can see picking up for deliberately blending improving or maintaining my biblical languages alongside devotional reading. One missed opportunity, in my view, was not having a ‘recommended resources’ section, which would have made this more of a library-building tool. However, in terms of the book being a helpful guide to Philippians, and achieving what it sets out to do as a tool for Greek, I think it is a good and useful volume. I’ll be interested to pick up other volumes in the series, and possibly even dive into the Old Testament ones.

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