Commentaries are written in a wide array of structures and styles. Some spend all their time dissecting the Greek, engaging with the tiniest of nuances to form their arguments. Some provide more of a survey approach to the text, pastorally-driven reflections on the macro themes of the Scriptures. Some commentaries gather the thoughts of other theologians and bring them all to a centralized location for us. But an excellent commentary finds the proper balance of all of these styles and lets them all play a part in shaping the commentary. That is what Richard D. Phillips has done in his new commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians, part of P&R’s Reformed Expository Commentary series.
With each chapter getting roughly 40-50 pages of material, Phillips has walked through these Pauline letters with great care, making sure not to rush through these small letters, while also not exhausting the reader with too much information to move on. According to the introduction, these expositions were a collection of sermons, so naturally Phillips has thought through the pastoral and applicable implications of these letters.
This installment of the “Reformed Expository Commentary” series truly sticks to the name. Phillips has compiled much wisdom from various teachings of the Reformation. What I like about this particular commentary is that it’s not just drawing from Calvin or Luther, but a whole gamut of the Reformed stream. While the structure is not necessarily always moving verse by verse, word by word, Phillips does exposition through the method of weaving a greater story, not being handcuffed to a chronological reading of the letters. Most commentaries, especially those with a Reformed bent, are much more systematic and expository in the sense that they are focusing on words, but it seems Phillips focuses more on themes and ideas, which is helpful.
I also appreciate Phillips’ perceived patience with the reader. For example, in most sections, Phillips takes the time to draw out the Greek words we’re seeing in these letters, and what they mean for the passage. Phillips doesn’t turn to Greek wording at every step, but he calculates his comments on the Greek carefully, to avoid overwhelming the reader or missing the point of the commentary. For example, Chapter 17 focuses on 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17, a passage about the resurrection that Christians differ in interpretation on. Phillips expounds on the Greek word anastasis, offers help from the Reformed confessions and theologians, and thus carefully exegetes this passage to provide clarity. Phillips navigates the balance of information well and is patiently trying to help inform the reader without burdening him.
Overall, I recommend this series, and this particular commentary, for your attention. 1 & 2 Thessalonians is a letter written not only to the church at Thessalonica but for our churches and our world today. The American Church today is growing more prone to persecution, facing serious moral decline (345). As Phillips observes, Paul sees the Thessalonian church as “a model for all others” (43).