Title: Philippians: A Mentor Commentary
Author: Matthew S. Harmon
Publisher: Christian Focus Publications
Backstory. Matt Harmon is professor of New Testament studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary, in Winona Lake, Indiana. Harmon has contributed to various books and academic journals in the past, in the former category including a chapter in Crossway's recent work on particular redemption, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her.
Now, of course, one is always a bit concerned in such situations. One good brother asked me to look at a manuscript some time back, and I immediately saw that I would need to suggest radical edits just about every paragraph, starting with the first. I knew I'd never have the time. What would it be like, reading Matt's manuscript? Being an academic and a good brother doesn't n ecessarily make one a good writer.
Plus, Harmon's academic strengths are deep and broad; for instance in opening 1:23ff., in a footnote Harmon profitably applies the rhetorical devices synkrisis and dubitatio, with explanation and documentation (142, footnote 97). Harmon also notes the presence of chiasm (200). The text will satisfy "layman" and more scholarly reader alike.
A good example illustrating Harmon's levels of concern is his treatment of Paul's prayer in 1:9 that the Philippians' "love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment." Taking just those last words ("all discernment"), Harmon first discusses the wording (98):
Other English versions translate this word 'insight" (NIV), 'understanding' (NLT) or 'judgment' (KJV). Part of the difficulty is that this Greek word (aisthēsis) appears nowhere else in the New Testament. It does occur frequently in [the Greek translation of] Proverbs, where it most often has the sense of insight or knowledge (e.g., Prov. 1:22; 2:10; 3:20). If it refers to discernment, the idea is of making necessary distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad, wise and foolish, etc. (cf. Heb. 5:14). But if it speaks of insights, the emphasis rests on a level of understanding that penetrates beneath the surface to the complexity of something along with its implications. The fact that the very next verse indicates the purpose of this growth of love is for the purpose of enabling the Philippians to approve the essential things may slightly tip the scales towards seeing a reference to discernment. By adding the word all Paul stresses the totality of the discernment.So a flowing introduction to the range of meaning, the presentation of the two main alternatives, and then rather than moving on without a commitment (as is commonly done), Harmon provides a reason to favor one view. But Harmon is not done yet. Then he develops that Paul's concern reveals "at least three important truths," which are:
- "...although love must have some basis in basic knowledge, its depth, consistency and endurance in some sense depend on growing intimacy with the person or object loved. This point is worth emphasis in a day where mysticism often beckons away from biblical reality. Knowledge is not the enemy of love for God, but a necessary condition for its existence" (98).
- "...the fact that Paul prays for this growth in knowledge and insight/discernment implies that it is God who must grant these realities. While it is our responsibility as believers to pursue growth in knowledge and discernment/insight through the available means such as the preaching of God's Word, reading/studying the Bible and helpful Christian literature, these activities are insufficient in and of themselves to produce the kind of knowledge...Paul speaks of here. Apart from the supernatural work of God's Spirit to use those efforts, the only kind of knowledge gained...is the kind that makes a person arrogant (cf. 1 Cor. 8:1)."
- "...for Paul, love is not a synonym for naivete. Popular depictions of Christian love as gullible credulity, easily taken in by false teachers, parasites, and hucksters, find no basis in the teaching of the apostles. Paul knew that a loving congregation could be a very vulnerable congregation, unless their love were tempered by a vigorously Biblical sense of knowledge and discernment such as is offered in Proverbs and the rest of the apostles' writings."
Also, the publisher made the wise decision in this volume (though not, alas, in others) of providing Harmon's extensive documentation in footnotes, not endnotes. A fourteen-page bibliography, a Scripture index, and a subject index close out the book.
In summary: I can't recommend this book highly enough. If you want to study Philippians closely, let alone teach it or preach it, I'd class it as a must-have, right alongside both classic and modern writers such as Eadie, Ellicott, Lightfoot and Alford, as well as O'Brien, Silva, or Hawthorne.
In fact, if you were about to buy your first commentary, or could have only one, Matthew Harmon's Mentor Commentary on Philippians would be the one I'd recommend. It's both the full package and the real deal, and I expect it to serve Christ's church for years to come.