Commentaries should not replace your own personal study, but they can be extremely helpful to supplement your study. In this article, I summarize my favorite commentaries on the book of Philippians. This is not a comprehensive critical review of each volume. This is a brief summary of each volume to help you look for your first or next commentary on the Book of Philippians.
I have designated each commentary under one of three categories.
- Devotional Commentaries: these commentaries are designed to help the average Bible reader understand the meaning of the text. No understanding of Greek is required. All theological terms, in general, are clearly defined.
- Mid–level Commentaries: these commentaries will often explain the text, referencing the original Greek. You still do not need to know Greek, but the commentator sometimes assumes you will understand Greek grammar terms and theological terms.
- Technical Commentaries: these commentaries will contain words and phrases in the original Greek using the Greek alphabet. They will use many abbreviations to scholarly references. Without familiarity with Koine Greek, popular theological works and scholarly references, you will find these commentaries more difficult to read and understand.
1. Gordon D. Fee (NICNT, 1995) (Mid-Level)
Fee’s 528 page commentary is my favorite companion when I want to study Philippians in detail. Fee’s treatment of Philippians is thorough and comprehensive. I find O’Brien’s commentary overall more useful for Greek exegesis. But Fee’s commentary provides an adequate discussion on the most common interpretations of the various passages, and his footnotes provide additional details whenever necessary.
2. Peter T. O’Brien (NIGTC, 1991) (Technical)
O’Brien’s Greek commentary is easily my favorite technical commentary on Philippians. O’Brien should help any exegete understand the original Greek text. I find that O’Brien helps me navigate through the details of the individual words and phrases of the Greek text, while Gordon Fee helps me think more carefully about the overall argument, themes and doctrines in Paul’s epistle.
This book is out of print due to allegations of plagiarism. I would not cite this work for academic publication, but for Bible students and pastors to help in their personal study, O’Brien’s volume is my personal favorite technical commentary.
3. Walter G. Hansen (Pillars, 2009) (Mid-Level)
Even though Hansen’s commentary is a more recent contribution, and the Pillars commentary series is generally excellent, I still prefer starting with Gordon Fee’s commentary before opening up Hansen’s.
4. Frank Thielman (NIVAC, 1995) (Devotional)
Theilman’s contribution to the NIVAC is one of the strongest of the series. Thielman’s goal is not to be as academic and technical as the first three commentaries, but I prefer this commentary to even MacArthur’s when looking for quick assistance to understanding the overall meaning of the text.
Even his introduction has a very detailed by readable discussion on the location of authorship. You can tell that Theilman really wants the reader to gain not just knowledge but spiritual understanding. I highly recommended this commentary as the best commentary for the layperson who will not examine the text in the original Greek.
5. John MacArthur (Devotional)
I regularly refer to the New Testament commentaries by John MacArthur, and Philippians is no exception. The balance of exposition, theology and application is perfect whenever I want to flip to read more about a particular passage during my daily reading.
When I engage in more detailed Bible study, this commentary becomes less useful than the ones listed above. But this is my favorite commentary to assist me during my Bible reading when I want to ponder on overall themes and big picture. MacArthur and Thielman pack a great one two punch for Christians not looking for commentaries that are too academic or technical.
6. Moises Silva (BECNT, 2005) (Technical)
This commentary is shorter than what is typical of commentaries in the BECNT series. I have already found Silva’s exegesis to be solid. His analysis of the syntax of the text is excellent. These next three volumes are my tier–two Philippians commentary recommendations.
7. Gerald F. Hawthorne (WBC, 1983, rev. 2004 by Ralph P. Martin) (Technical)
Most of the modern commentators are indebted to Hawthorne for his seminal work on Philippians originally published in 1983. Before 1990, this was probably the best modern commentary on Philippians. This commentary is not at the top of my list, but Hawthorne’s contribution must be included in any thorough review of Philippians commentators. The revised commentary by Ralph Martin has an updated bibliography which is an excellent resource.
8. Markus Bockmuehl (BNTC, 1997) (Mid-Level)
Another relatively conservative commentary on Philippians with overall good discussion on the biblical theology of Philippians. Overall, this is another solid commentary that can be used as a primary commentary for most pastors and serious Bible student. I prefer Fee and Hansen as my top two choices for mid-level commentaries, but Bockmuehl admirably rounds out my Philippians commentary collection.
9. Richard B. Melick (NAC) (Mid-Level)
Melick has written a relatively solid Philippians commentary. Practically speaking, I only consult this commentary occasionally. It’s not readable enough to supplement my daily Bible reading, and yet it is not technical enough to add much to my exegetical process. But whenever I need to do a detailed search on as many perspectives in Philippians as possible, this commentary fits the bill.
Best Exegetical Guide: Joseph H. Hellerman (EGGNT)
Published in 2015, this exegetical guide is up–to–date and best consolidates the most pertinent views to the key exegetical issues in Philippians. Hellerman’s guide is solid throughout, and he perfectly complements O’Brien’s technical commentary for most Greek exegetes studying Philippians. He has a great updated bibliography. He also efficiently summarizes material compiled from the best Greek lexicons, dictionaries and commentaries.
Other Philippians Commentaries
I do not own either of these commentaries, but they can also be considered for scholars who desire the most comprehensive coverage of Philippians.
I am grateful to God that there have been men who have labored diligently, and they have shared their learnings in written form. These commentaries are not necessary to understand Philippians, but they can help us along the journey.