Tuesday, January 11, 2011

John Reumann's Philippians Commentary

John Reumann. Philippians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Yale Bible Series 33B. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008. xxiv + 805. ISBN 978-0-300-140045-3. $65.00 (cloth).

John Reumann’s methodologically eclectic commentary assumes that canonical Philippians arises from the combination of three letters into one at the end of the first century (Letters B, C, and then A). The author bases this assumption on internal considerations and does not cogently argue for this position except for his reference to Polycarp, Phil 3.2 with its allusion to epistolas (pp. 8-9). Letter A, for Reumann, includes 4:10-20 and expresses Paul’s thankfulness and joyfulness for the Philippian Christ-followers. It was written from Ephesus in A.D. 54. Letter B was written in the last part of 54 or in the early part of 55 and includes 1:1-3:1, as well as, 4:1-9, 21-23. This letter, unlike Letters A and C, indicates that Paul composed it in prison. It focuses on Epaphroditus, Paul’s situation, and the way the gospel progresses even amid opposition. The polemical Letter C includes 3:2-21 and most likely 4:1-9. It was written in A.D. 55 and is concerned with issues of doctrine, ethics, and unity (p. 3). Reumann’s partition theory requires him to comment on the text in its original Letter A, B, and C context as well as its canonical literary setting; this sometimes makes the commentary unwieldy and disjointed.

It is difficult to assess his partition theory since editorial constraints limited explicit positive arguments for his view. Furthermore, his claim for an Ephesus provenance with its attendant imprisonment is contested. This rarely impinges on the commentary proper, which follows the traditional Anchor Yale Bible format: author’s translation; extensive exegetical notes; author’s comment and personal viewpoint, and expansive sectional bibliographies. These provide a storehouse of Reumann’s decades-long research into the Philippian correspondence. However, the truncated nature of the finished product (originally planned as a two volume work) results in a commentary that is most useful as a reference work, not as a seamless presentation of Paul’s epistolary discourse. Furthermore, the notational conventions and the often elliptical discussion make the work quite useful for those already familiar with the broader field of Pauline studies but somewhat unapproachable for general readers, who form part of the commentary’s intended audience.

In a short review, it may be most useful to outline some of Reumann’s conclusions. He sees 2:6-11 as an encomium developed by the converts in Philippi for their mission. Paul redeploys it for his rhetorical purposes addressing their internal problems (p. 333). The other preachers in 1:14-18b are resentful over Paul’s use of his Roman citizenship to avoid suffering at the hands of the Roman authorities (p. 207). With regard to the perennial debate over development in Paul’s eschatology (1:23), Reumann concludes that Paul had “a consistent present-and-future position throughout [his] career” (p. 240). The episkopoi and diakonoi mentioned in 1:1 were leadership positions “invented by” the Philippians, though Reumann rightly notes the paucity of evidence for cultic activity at this early stage (p. 89). In 3:4b-11, he initially describes Paul’s understanding of the reconfiguration of his Jewish identity “in Christ” as both a contrast and a comparison (p. 505). However, Reumann’s binary formulation of “Saul the Pharisee” and “Paul in Christ” betrays his understanding of the continued salience of Paul’s Jewish identity. I contend that Paul is not denigrating his Jewish identity; rather by means of a qal wahomer form of argument, he is telling the Philippians that those aspects of their Roman social identity that they hold dear are nothing in comparison to knowing Christ (see 1 Cor 7:19). Reumann, in his comments on 3:9, continues his support for the traditional, forensic understanding of justification by faith (cf. pp. 492-98, 509). However, his consideration of the way righteousness language would have been heard in a Roman context exemplifies his skillful weaving of traditional theological concerns with the Roman imperial context in Philippi. This commentary is a testament to decades of research, and though Reumann passed away in 2008, his thoughts are thankfully here preserved for critical engagement by both present and future scholars.

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