Book Reviews

Book Review: Philippians (TNTC), Jeannine Brown

The TNTC series, a flagship evangelical commentary series, began in 1956. It has been revised once before, and is undergoing a new revision. Jeannine Brown—Professor of New Testament and Director of Online Programs at Bethel Seminary—replaces Ralph Martin’s previous volume. She has written on hermeneutics, the Gospels, the Gospel of Matthew (TTC and THCNT), and more.

There are already a lot of Philippians commentaries out there. Do we really need another one?

Why would you want to read this book?

Brown gives a lengthy introduction to Philippians, much longer than the average not only for this series but even for larger series—57 pages! And her bibliography is 9 pages in length. Paul writes to the Philippians to assure them that “his ministry of the gospel and joy in the Lord are unhindered, in spite of being ‘in chains’ and so far away from them” (1). Brown writes,

His deep desire for this congregation is that they live out their unity in Christ with one another by practising the countercultural virtue of humility. As they encounter any suffering for their singular loyalty to Jesus their Messiah and Lord, this unity will cause them to ‘stand firm in the Lord’ (4:1). (1)

Brown begins with what I believe I’ve never seen in a commentary before: hermeneutical considerations. Brown lays before you her method of studying and understanding Philippians so that you can better recognize how she arrives at her conclusions. She couples a close reading of the text of Philippians with a historical construction of both Paul and the Philippians’ situations around the time when the letter was written. By understanding both the history and the literary text we can come to conclusions about Paul’s theology.

In Philippians Paul exhorts “the community of faith to live out in the present their already granted salvation in light of their future hope” (3). To understand who Paul is, she looks first at how Paul presents himself in the letter, along with looking at his other letters and Acts for historical information. She defines this is reading the ‘implied author” (or the “implied Paul”), which may sound strange for many who haven’t read about literary theory (I’ve only dipped my toes). Yet Brown’s point is that we don’t know if the Philippians ever read Paul’s other letters. They may have only known Paul and this letter (plus his associates). Brown’s goal here “is to allow Philippians to lead the way for understanding the Pauline ‘icon’ that emerges from it” (6). While in some letters Paul can appear to be a rather combative polemicist (Romans, Galatians, Corinthians), in Philippians Paul writes “in almost wholly commendable terms” (7).

She gives attention to the Philippians’ situation, Paul’s language (or how language and defining words works), and Paul’s theology.

The Purpose of the Letter

Brown writes that the purpose of the letter was to acknowledge the gifts they had given Paul and to assure them that they didn’t need to be concerned about him while he was in prison. He learned contentment in Christ, and the gospel was still advancing. As well, he wanted to spit them on toward unity in Christ, especially while they were experiencing opposition for their allegiance to Christ. Finally, he wanted to warn them against various “opponents.”

The Opponents

The opponents mentioned in 1:27–28 seem to be unbelievers, 3:2 involves a “Judaizing” influence, and 3:18–19 may refer to believers ready to capitulate to the world’s pressure just to avoid suffering and persecution.


At the end of each Context section, Brown offers a concluding paragraph on Paul’s use of rhetoric in Philippians, his use of ethos, pathos, and logos (explained on pp. 30–31). She does this because she has “found it helpful to consider how Paul draws on his own situation and his existing relationship with the Philippian believers to persuade them towards particular dispositions and actions” (32).

The Letter’s Unity

Previously, many critical scholars have questioned the unity of the letter and have proposed that the letter to the Philippians was originally two or three letters. But Brown believes that the odd features that have given rise to these theories can “be adequately addressed by the oral and aural characteristics” of the letter (33). A letter being read aloud needs to be able to hold a crowd’s attention and assist them in following the argument. This helps to explain Paul’s use of “finally” in 3:1, for example.

Context, Comment, and Theology

Each section has three subsections: Context, Comment, and Theology. Context informs you on what to expect in the coming passage and how it fits into the surrounding passages. Comment exegete the text, casting an eye on the importance of particular words (verbs, participles) used and how they influence the passage, what OT texts are used, and Paul’s general flow of thought. Brown keeps the flow of the entire letter in mind as she writes.

2:17–18. Just to give on example, in 2:17-18 Paul compares himself to a poured-out drink offering. Brown notes that the main idea in Paul’s metaphor is that he is a liquid offering being poured out on a sacrifice. His ministry is the drink offering, and it is poured over a sacrifice—the Philippians’ faith. She notes that their faith is the sacrifice, but, in the metaphor, the Philippians are also presented as the priests offering the sacrifice (“the sacrifice and service coming from your faith“). While this can’t literally work, the metaphor has “great figurative potential” (142). It doesn’t need to be literally true for the metaphor to work. The Philippians’ faith—their whole life response to God—is a sacrifice to God. They are like priests for they serve God as the church temple, yielding to and actively obeying God (142–143).


I’ve really enjoyed the third series of TOTC and TNTC volumes, and Brown’s volume is a fitting update. She carefully integrates the history behind and the literary text of Philippians to come to a fuller picture of Paul, why he wrote, what he wrote, and what it means. This is a great volume, and you should pair it with Cohick, Moises, and Fee. Brown’s volume is good to use as preparation for a Bible study, for a sermon, and for teaching in a Bible college/seminary atmosphere.


  • Series: Tyndale New Testament Commemtary
  • Author: Jeannine K. Brown
  • Paperback: 243 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (March 22, 2022)
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Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

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