Jerry Sumney has produced a very useful aid for students who have already completed an introductory course in Greek and who now want to take their language skills to a higher level. It will also be of value to those whose Greek studies lie in the more distant past and who wish to revive the skills which have become rusty.
His book is designed to lead the reader through the Greek text of Philippians step by step. Thus, at the beginning of each section of text, the full Greek text is provided, along with an English translation which is intended to bring out significant interpretative issues. Sumney then works through the section, phrase by phrase. In doing so, he parses significant Greek words and highlights grammatical constructions. Grammatical terms which may be unfamiliar are highlighted in bold type and briefly explained in a glossary at the end of the book. The most important constructions are frequently explained and illustrated in “text boxes” at the appropriate locations in the discussion of the biblical text.
To some extent, Sumney is obliged to provide some literary and historical comment in order for his discussion of the text to be useful (for example, the typical structure of the opening of a Hellenistic letter), but clearly he cannot provide the detail and argumentation which would be found in a detailed commentary. While there is a measure of overlap between the material in this book and that found in a commentary, it is not really fair to judge this book by the standards of a commentary. Sumney sticks fairly firmly to the task of explaining the language issues, and those who wish detailed exegetical and theological discussions will have to augment this book with traditional commentaries.
Sumney constantly references major exegetical tools, such as BDAG, BDF, LSJ, etc., as well as significant commentaries (he frequently cites those by O’Brien and Fee). It is helpful that he also makes good use of Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, which will be more accessible than BDF for many readers.
Each section of text ends with a selection of monographs and articles which can be consulted for further study (although these are not particularly current, with only a few items having been published more recently than 2000), and there is an annotated list of important exegetical tools provided at the end of the book. Also at the end of the book, there is a summary of the syntax of NT Greek, which should be a useful reference guide.
This book will not tell you all there is to know about the Greek text of Philippians. For example, the much-debated term in Phil 2:6, harpagmos, is dealt with in just a few lines with no reference to the interpretation “something to be used for his own advantage,” which has gained favour in recent years. However, Sumney does alert the reader to the fact that this is a debated issue and so allows them to follow it up if they wish, and N. T. Wright’s significant article on the topic is indicated among the resources for further study.
All in all, this book provides a very useful, self-contained, teaching tool for those who wish to improve their Greek. I hope that many who are learning Greek, or who began to learn it long ago, will find fresh encouragement in this book to engage more seriously with the Greek text of the NT.