The Letter to Philemon (NICNT) by Scot McKnight

book phil

Here’s an interesting commentary. Philemon, something like the forgotten little brother of the New Testament, gets its own standalone volume in the venerated New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) series. Scot McKnight, a respected New Testament scholar, pens the ideal commentary on Philemon, coming in at 127 pages. In a few months, McKnight will also have a commentary on Colossians come in print in the same series. This replaces, or at least will replace when Ephesians is redone, the long-standing work by F. F. Bruce.

After a fine bibliography, McKnight turns in an Introduction of a little over 40 pages. A section on slavery in the Roman Empire makes up two thirds of the Introduction. While McKnight admits at times that slavery may not be the main theme of Philemon, he goes somewhat awry in writing at length as if it were. Still, it is a fascinating read on slavery. He brings in some modern information that strikes me as having little to do with Philemon, yet you will enjoy reading it. It seems to me that the theme of Philemon may have more to do with the world that a Christian finds him- or herself living in rather than a polemic against slavery. In fairness, you couldn’t really write a major academic work on Philemon without addressing the slavery issue as it has dominated the discussion for the last few decades.

The rest of the Introduction is in a more typical mode. He spends only a paragraph on authorship and date as the traditional conclusions are comparatively rarely disputed. In the next section, he discusses the relationship between Onesimus, Philemon, and Paul and feels that the traditional view that Onesimus was a runaway slave is most likely the case. In a section on the events at work in the Letter to Philemon, McKnight attempts to untangle the issues we will encounter. Though it’s a short section, McKnight is quite effective in explaining structure, rhetoric, and clarity of Philemon.

The commentary proper begins on page 49 and is well done. He provides the text, a few textual notes, an overview of the passage, and then quality verse by verse commentary. Scholars will love the copious footnotes on each page while pastors would do well to at least scan them as they contain some great information. The commentary is top-notch.

Most commentators like to lump Philemon with Colossians. In the preface, McKnight explains why that might not be a good idea. In any event, very few commentary series give Philemon its own volume. In my opinion, this volume outshines its two main competitors: Philemon by Joseph Fitzmyer in the Anchor Bible series and Philemon in the EEC series by Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke. Simply put, McKnight is newer, respects the text more, and makes better judgments. This is the standalone volume on Philemon that every pastor will want.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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