Philippians - Pursuing Christ to Know Him

by Thomas W. Finley


The original version of this study was prepared in 2014 for a Bible class at a Bible college in Asia. This origin will explain the emphasis on some areas of truth, especially important lessons related to serving the Lord. The current revision has the goal of providing a readable commentary on Philippians for believers in countries where quality Christian literature is limited. This commentary will not be highly technical but will focus on explaining the meaning of the text. Additionally, life application sections should be valuable for the reader in helping his or her daily life.

Some comments on good Bible interpretation principles will be made at times in this commentary. Hopefully, these comments will help the reader for his own study of Scripture. Also, Appendix B contains information on free resources that students anywhere can access to help them in the study of the Scriptures. The interpretation method used in this commentary is known as the “grammatical-historical method.” Note the two elements here of sound interpretation in this method. One element is the actual grammar of the text. The other element is the historical background of the writing. The method may also be understood as the literal interpretation of the Bible text. The goal of this method is to discover the original intended meaning of the author when he wrote the Biblical passage. In other words, in respect to this study, what was Paul actually trying to say to the readers of the letter, those in Philippi?

Therefore, close attention must be paid to the grammar of the text – the words used, the relationships of ideas and statements by means of clauses, verbal tenses, emphasis, flow of arguments, transitional points, etc. The context is often considered as a primary help in deciding the meaning of the words and the ideas written. This approach is basic to understanding any piece of writing. All of the wording should be taken at face value – its literal meaning. The exception to this arises when the context gives us some good reason to expect a symbolic meaning. Common communication techniques such as figures of speech, parables, obvious allegories, proverbs and the like are to be recognized as such. These are to be interpreted in a a normal fashion as we would understand them in any writing. Much damage has been done in the field of interpretation by those who disregard the literal meaning of the text and search for some deeper, “hidden” meaning as the “true” meaning of a passage.

Also, to help us arrive at a proper understanding, the historical background of the writing is very important. A good Bible dictionary can be very helpful in learning the historical background of a book in the Bible (see Appendix B for resources such as Bible dictionaries). The immediate background would include the identity and situation of the readers. Also, any information on the author of the writing would be important (his background, identifiable spiritual burdens and perspectives, etc.). The relationship between the writer and the recipients would also be significant. Moreover, a broader perspective of the time period and the conditions then present would give important historical clues for interpretation. The time period viewed from the standpoint of God’s plan would also be significant. For instance, was the passage written when the Law was in effect, or after the time of grace had come? Additionally, knowledge of the culture, customs and traditions of the time would certainly be important for good understanding of the text.

Finally, we should note that the “grammatical-historical” interpretive method is the sole acceptable method of interpretation in first rate Bible colleges. This literal approach to interpreting Scripture was recovered in the modern era as one of the hallmarks of the Protestant Reformation. [1]

The author gives thanks to God for His grace to prepare this study. Along with over 40 years of Bible reading and personal study, I have also consulted a number of Bible commentaries in order to discover and present the truth as accurately as I can.

Thomas Finley

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] Luther, Calvin and other reformers embraced a literal approach to Bible interpretation. These men rightly rejected the arbitrary allegorical approach that had dominated Roman Catholic teaching for hundreds of years. The “allegorizing method” does not seek to understand a passage by taking its content in a literal way. Rather, it downplays or even disregards the literal meaning altogether while seeking to find some hidden spiritual meaning. To an allegorizing interpreter, the “truth” of the passage, or the “exposition” of the passage, is not the literal at all. Instead, they believe that another meaning altogether must be “discovered.” Therefore, the plain meaning of the text is considered to be only like a code language that must be decoded into the real, secret meaning.