Philippians: A new commentary for a treasured New Testament book

bcbc_philippiansOctober 26, 2016

News release

A new commentary for a treasured New Testament book
Philippians Believers Church Bible Commentary written by Gordon Zerbe

HARRISONBURG, Va., and KITCHENER, Ont.—What if, rather than only reading Philippians, Christians allowed Philippians to read them?

In this 31st volume in the Believers Church Bible Commentary series, New Testament scholar Gordon Zerbe challenges readers to allow Paul’s prison letter to interpret their own lives—not by extracting lessons out of historical and cultural context but by imagining themselves in the ancient Roman world.

Zerbe is vice president academic at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba.


Gordon Zerbe

Zerbe says that to understand Paul and his beloved and beleaguered congregation in Philippi, we must undomesticate Paul. We can learn to see him as a leader transformed by grace and passionate about enlivening patriotic loyalty to Jesus alone.

Zerbe notes that the gospel does not pertain merely to the individual, private, and spiritual aspects of life. “Political matters (broadly speaking) are spiritual, and spiritual matters are inescapably social (and thus ‘political’),” Zerbe explained in an interview. He says that Philippians is for many the most treasured of Paul’s letters.

The Believers Church Bible Commentary series is designed to be accessible to lay readers, useful in preaching and pastoral care, helpful for Bible study groups and Sunday school teachers, and academically sound. The series also carries an underlying Anabaptist reading of Scripture. The volumes are a cooperative project of Brethren in Christ Church, Brethren Church, Church of the Brethren, Mennonite Brethren Church, Mennonite Church Canada, and Mennonite Church USA.

Zerbe holds a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary and degrees from Western Washington University, Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Tabor College, and Columbia Bible College. He is the author of Citizenship: Paul on Peace and Politics. After growing up in Japan as a child of mission workers, a highlight in his career was a series of years (1996–98, 2002–04) in the Philippines as visiting professor at the Silliman University Divinity School under the auspices of Mennonite Central Committee.

Philippians is available in paperback for $29.99 USD from Herald Press at 800-245-7894 or, as well as at bookstores.

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Author interview—Philippians Believers Church Bible Commentary with Gordon Zerbe

Gordon Zerbe is vice president academic at Canadian Mennonite University. Interview by staff writer Melodie M. Davis.

What do you mean by “allowing the book of Philippians to read us”? How is that done?

That’s another way of saying that we want an ancient letter in the New Testament to speak to us today. It highlights that Paul’s wisdom in the letter can mirror back to us some of our own circumstances and questions. Once we live into the world of that text, we can look back at ourselves in a new way. We tend to see our own world differently only if we’ve been truly transported mentally or geographically into another.

As an interpreter of Scripture, I’ve become increasingly aware of how my own story shapes the process of reading Scripture. All of us come to the Bible with some kind of bias, or with a preformulated understanding of what the text is all about, or with a set of questions or concerns that we find most important. But as a Filipino colleague once suggested to me, the point of interpretation is to seek to understand the bias of the text itself, while becoming self-aware of our own biases that we inevitably bring to our encounter with Scripture. My four years of working in the Philippines helped me to become more self-aware of my own biases, and for that reason I’ve dedicated the commentary to my former colleagues and students there.

What is meant by “theopolitical”?

It’s shorthand to highlight that the spiritual and the social dimensions of life are inseparable, and that the spiritual and social aspects of the gospel are integral. The social dimension includes the communal, economic, and even political domains of life. By “political” I speak not of matters of partisan politics, but what it means to be a part of a broader public, constantly considering questions of one’s primary allegiance.

To say that being a Christian involves a “citizenship,” as Paul does in Philippians, is to make a “theopolitical” claim. The point is to “make Jesus ‘Christ’ again” (a statement I heard recently, playing on someone else’s assertion that the main task was to make some state “great again”).

What does kingdom allegiance and messianic citizenship say to today’s culture in North America?

Paul presents the claims of the gospel of Jesus as a “citizenship,” something that a long history of English translation has somehow covered up. We can hardly avoid not thinking through what this means for our other, earthly citizenships, loyalties, and identities—how our Christian citizenship becomes the most fundamental aspect of our identity, loyalty, and practice. Each place we find ourselves in—family, region, culture, nation—presents unique challenges. Christ helps us to “unplug” from competing, narrow loyalties in a community committed to the good of all.

Recently I’ve come to appreciate Paul as a “migrant.” Paul is a migrant not only in a geographical sense (whether in his upbringing or in his adult ministry), but also in an intellectual-spiritual sense. As a migrant, he is a cultural hybrid, even wrestling internally with different aspects of himself and his loyalties.

My own personal story has caused me to be interested in questions of “citizenship.” Among my first memories growing up (as a missionary kid in Japan) was that I was a “foreigner.” Later, being moved around as a preacher’s kid in both the U.S. and Canada, the issue of what is the meaning of citizenship was natural. I once prided myself in being content to be a mere sojourner, a displaced person, living many years as an immigrant in Canada, while considering my formal citizenship to be the USA that was bequeathed to me as an accident of birth. When I eventually became a Canadian citizen for practical reasons as our family travelled internationally, I was troubled with the theopolitical implications of having to make an affirmation of loyalty to the Queen and her successors—that is, to the state of Canada.

What are other themes in the commentary?

I emphasize four main themes: citizenship, partnership, high-low inversion, and joy. What it means to fully realize the vision of partnership and mutuality that Paul articulated, and what it means to faithfully practice the way of being in solidarity with the lowly are imperatives as relevant today as they were two thousand years ago.

How would you suggest adult Sunday school classes study this volume?

 Sometimes it’s important not to lose the forest for the trees. For that reason, a shorter, more intensive engagement with Philippians and the commentary might be good, such as for a quarter.

The selected readings at the end of the commentary include a reference to a brief discussion guide on Philippians by prolific New Testament scholar N. T. Wright that I think would work well with this more in-depth commentary. I am in sympathy with the approach that he takes in that guide; some of his earlier scholarly work on Philippians had a decisive impact on my own thinking.

What would be the takeaway for someone just reading this volume because they want to understand Philippians better?

I would suggest, perhaps oddly, that someone start by reading the essays at the end of the commentary. My own views on the letter have been shaped by what I know now about the social and political context of the letter, and it’s that kind of background awareness that helps us read with new lenses and openness.

Why did you agree to write this commentary?

Since the days of my doctoral studies at Princeton, I’ve somehow become absorbed in work on Saul/Paul and his letters. So this was a great opportunity to deepen my understanding of one letter. In addition, I was already convinced that some new thinking about Paul and Philippians could make for an exciting new venture in a commentary.


Philippians and the other volumes in the Believers Church Bible Commentary series are available from Herald Press at 800-245-7894, the MennoMedia webstore, Amazon, and other online sources.

Living in faithful hope – Chronicles commentary published

BCBC_1-2Chronicles2February 10, 2016

News release

Living in faithful hope
Chronicles Believers Church Bible Commentary released

HARRISONBURG, Va., and KITCHENER, Ontario—Readers might skip over 1 & 2 Chronicles on their way to better-known biblical books. If they do, August H. Konkel thinks they are making a mistake.

Konkel, professor of Old Testament at McMaster Divinity School, is the author of 1 & 2 Chronicles, the 30th volume in the Believers Church Bible Commentary series.

Chronicles offers a lot to today’s church, Konkel believes. “The main theme of Chronicles is hope,” he says. “If we are faithful to our calling, then the hope God gave to David and his people is realized.”

The Chronicler wrote a history that starts with creation and carries the story of his own people up to his current time. Writing at the time of the Persian Empire, after Israel’s return from Babylonian exile, the Chronicler offered encouragement to the people of his small nation.

The writer has “a vision of the nation that is apart from the state,” says Konkel. He notes that the Chronicler four times uses the term “the kingdom of God.” Chronicles provides a starting place to understand the New Testament meaning of the kingdom of God, says Konkel. This understanding of the kingdom is elaborated by Jesus and Paul in the New Testament.

As in all volumes of the Believers Church Bible Commentary series, 1 & 2 Chronicles includes tools such as sections on “The Text in the Biblical Context” and “The Text in the Life of the Church.” Here Konkel connects the Chronicler’s stories of faith and exile, of struggling to rebuild, to the life of believers past, present, and future. “This story should inspire us to be faithful to the calling God has given us,” he says.

Konkel_AugustHKonkel relates the story of his own Mennonite Brethren grandparents, Ukrainian refugees in Canada who were defrauded by their land agent and who lost multiple children while farming in Saskatchewan. “Their faith was their strength, carrying on through tragedy,” he says. In the commentary, he looks at key Anabaptist figures of the Reformation. The story of faithfulness in struggle has many applications across the international church today. “It parallels us, who we are, the road ahead; this is the calling we need to be faithful to,” says Konkel.

Each Believers Church Bible Commentary includes a variety of theme essays. The 1 & 2 Chronicles commentary looks at how the Chronicler treated warfare in his account. Konkel addresses how and why we write history, and suggests the purpose is not so much what happened in the past as how the past has affected our situation today.

Other essays examine how ancient authors worked to compose biblical books, the idea of promise to David, and how Chronicles relates to other Old Testament books, such as Ezra and Nehemiah.

The Believers Church Bible Commentary is a cooperative project of the Brethren in Christ Church, Brethren Church, Church of the Brethren, Mennonite Church Canada, and Mennonite Church USA.

In addition to teaching at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario, Konkel is president emeritus of Providence University College and Theological Seminary in Otterburne, Manitoba. He also was instructor in Old Testament at Providence and has served as a pastor. He is the author of commentaries on Job and on 1 & 2 Kings in other commentary series.

1 & 2 Chronicles is available in paperback for $29.99 USD from Herald Press at 800-245-7894 or, as well as at bookstores.

Ardell Stauffer

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For more information on this press release:
Melodie Davis
News manager


Deuteronomy, newest Believers Church Bible Commentary, released

News release
September 23, 2015

Deuteronomy, newest Believers Church Bible Commentary, released
A call for faith in God and right living

HARRISONBURG, Va. and KITCHENER, Ontario—How should we walk in God’s way as a faithful people? What tools do the biblical stories of God’s people give us?

Deuteronomy is a book of stories, a book of law, and a look at the core of faith: “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one,” Deuteronomy 6:4 puts it. Sometimes called the “gospel according to Moses,” Deuteronomy examines divine grace and the practices of justice and right living.

Herald Press has released Deuteronomy, the 29th volume in the Believers Church Bible Commentary series, authored by Gerald E. Gerbrandt of Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“Deuteronomy is sometimes perceived as ancient history, but a key word is today,” says Gerbrandt. “There is a power in Deuteronomy to become the word for today in diverse contexts.” He notes the words that call out to present-day believers in Deuteronomy 5:3: “Not [only] with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today.”

The Deuteronomy commentary, like all of the volumes in the Believers Church Bible Commentary series, is designed to provide guidance for a variety of readers. Written for lay readers, pastors, teachers, and Bible study groups, this commentary considers the themes that tie together the Old Testament, New Testament, and life in the modern world.

Using an Anabaptist reading of Scripture, Gerbrandt examines the Shema of Deuteronomy 6—the call to worship one God that Jesus quotes in the Gospels. Gerbrandt looks at how Deuteronomy promotes healthy community relationships. “This is not only intellectual assent or for Sunday morning worship only,” he writes. “It requires that justice become the center of how we treat each other,” including the resident “aliens and strangers” among us. Gerbrandt thereby connects Deuteronomy to Jesus’ teachings on loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Gerbrandt invites readers to engage difficult passages of Deuteronomy that have been used to justify violence and dispossession. He looks at how hopeful themes of covenant, land, and leadership express the heart of Israel’s faith.

Like all volumes in the Believers Church Bible Commentary series, Deuteronomy includes useful tools like “The Text in the Biblical Context” and “The Text in the Life of the Church.” These tools encourage readers to understand the book in its original setting, and to find the ways this fifth book of Moses continues to speak to the church.

The Believers Church Bible Commentary is a cooperative project of the Brethren in Christ Church, Brethren Church, Church of the Brethren, Mennonite Church Canada, and Mennonite Church USA.


Gerald Gerbrandt

Gerald E. Gerbrandt is president emeritus and professor emeritus of Bible at Canadian Mennonite University. He served as CMU president from 2003 to 2012 and as president of Canadian Mennonite Bible College from 1997 to 2003.

Deuteronomy is available in paperback for $34.99 USD from MennoMedia at 800-245-7894 or, as well as at bookstores.


Ardell Stauffer
High resolution photo available.

For more information on this press release:
Melodie Davis
News manager