Updated Review of Hansen’s Philippians Commentary (Pillar)

Previously I had expressed an interest in blogging my way through G. Walter Hansen’s Philippians commentary (Pillar, Eerdmans). However, many of you will know that you can get the feel for the utility, contribution, and niche of a commentary by reading a selective portion. I intend to read the whole thing (as I am currently teaching a grad exegesis course on Philippians), but I don’t think I will have much to say on an extended basis. So, here are some of my thoughts having worked through slightly more than half.

(1) Hansen is a traditional exegete in the sense that he (a) values historical-critical study of the text with an interest in authorial intent (not surprising and I would be in the same camp), (b) engages in the traditional methods of word studies, and (c) moves from what the text MEANT to what it MEANS to how it can apply to our world today. Again, I am fine with this approach, though many are starting to challenge it from various sectors.

(2) Hansen is a reliable and balanced interpreter. You will not find wild or outlandish theories. That will be of comfort to many who might only turn to one commentary in need of information.

(3) Hansen has a good acquaintance with both Jewish and Greco-Roman texts and culture, such that he offers a balanced discussion of backgrounds, contexts, and social dimensions that affect our reading of Philippians.

This is all good news in the sense that Hansen is worthy of consideration and attention. However, I would add these points as well:

(1) I can’t really say that I would prefer his commentary over O’Brien (for example) except that it is shorter and less technical.

(2) He demonstrates (in my opinion) an over-reliance on BDAG and TDNT (esp. to former). While lexicons and dictionaries are useful, I was astonished by the number of times Hansen seems to have defaulted to the definition of BDAG. I am not concerned that Hansen cited BDAG, but when it is referred to or quoted on almost every page, I sense that it was deferred to without much follow-up.

(3) The occasions when Hansen engages in the modern relevance of the text are very insightful, but I feel that overall this is handled unevenly. Some commentary series have a more stream-lined approach, reserving a particular section for “theology” or “application” (e.g., NIVAC, Beacon, even WBC to some degree). When that format structure is not there, it is difficult to achieve balance. Essentially I am saying, “I like what you are saying Hansen, flesh the implications out more, be more explicit about how this effects Christian life and ministry…”


Like many contributions in the Pillar series, I am pleased with the good exegesis found in the commentary with Hansen’s volume on Philippians. It would make a good choice for a commentary to purchase if you don’t already have one. However, if you own O’Brien, I would say that you are not going to find many new insights.

I am testing a new system for reviewing books: see what you think below, comment if you would like.

QUALITY OF INTERPRETATION (how good is the research): 4.5/5

READABILITY (flow, easily comprehensible, format, length): 4.5/5

CREATIVITY (freshness of insight): 3/5



2 thoughts on “Updated Review of Hansen’s Philippians Commentary (Pillar)

  1. I would prefer to see reviewers address the author’s content rather than their style. I read this entire review, and still have no idea what the book you are reviewing is even about. I would always start with summaries the author’s thesis.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

    1. Rich,
      It is notoriously difficult to assess the “content” of a commentary. It is like assessing the “content” of Webster’s dictionary. So, my not commenting on the content is more regarding the challenge of the commentary genre. Sometimes reviewers will use case-studies and look at the commentators thoughts on a particularly difficult passage. Given my comments about Hansen, this would not prove to be very useful.

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