Sunday, December 1, 2013

REVIEW: Philippians For the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee



Why is the Letter to the Philippians so special?  One reason is that it's about a Jew named Paul taking a very Jewish message for the first time into 'the continent of Europe' (Phil., pg. 1).  When Paul arrived at Philippi, he could not just stop by the local synagogue:

'And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled.' [Acts 16:13]

[Commentary for Acts 16:13] Throughout the Book of Acts, we see that Paul's usual missionary pattern was to go to the Jewish local synagogue and proclaim the good news to those assembled on Shabbat, and he would often remain there until he would be thrown out or those attending lost interest.  Philippi is a major exception to this pattern..." (Phil., pg. 126)

How strange this must have been for Paul!  To find a compatible audience for this new Jewish Gospel, Paul was forced to go to a Sabbath-gathering of women.  His first contact there was a non-Jewish woman named Lydia:

"The first person from Phillipi who is named is a woman, Lydia....[who] being only described as a 'God-fearer,' was not a Jewess," (Phil., pgs. 126-127)

And so we have the setting for the Book of Philippians.  For some unknown reason, it was a small group of non-Jewish who started what became the future congregation at Philippi.

McKee's commentary then begins to paint a picture that would make most Christians very uncomfortable:


Not only did the core group of Philippian Believers initially meet on Shabbat but Paul made no attempts to alter this meeting time.  Commenting on Acts 16:16, McKee writes, "As the scene in Philippi shifts, v. 16 records that Paul and his company, 'we,' 'were going to the place of prayer.'  While not stated explicitly in the text, it is likely that Paul had stayed in Philippi for at least a week, and he was going with his associates to the riverside for a Shabbat gathering."


And in the Letter to the Philippians, Paul essentially tells the non-Jews to start following Jewish halachah:


'Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.  For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Messiah, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.'

[Commentary on Philippians 3:17] In v. 17, Paul admonishes the Philippians, 'Join with others in following my example' (NIV).  This parallels his words in 1 Corinthians 11:1, 'Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Messiah.'  If we can rightfully assert that Yeshua Himself followed the Torah or Law of Moses, then Paul himself likewise certainly followed it as His Lord demonstrated it (cf. Galatians 6:2).  Martin actually asserts that what Paul talks about here 'is the New Testament counterpart to the Hebrew term halakhah...i.e., practical conduct (lit. 'walking') as distinct from mental activity,'"(Phil., pg. 88)

And this wasn't the first time Paul had taught a non-Jewish audience to keep Jewish traditions:

"Paul himself commend the Corinthians, 'Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you' (1 Corinthians 11:2), indicating that there were probably some First Century Jewish traditions that he passed on to them that he considered of great value," (Phil., pg. 99)


Another great thing that McKee accomplishes in this wonderful commentary is to show that Paul's Pro-Torah example applies even to circumcision.  Many people are unaware that there was a difference of opinion in First-Century Judaism as to what initiated a convert into the covenant.  One group said that circumcision is initiatory; other groups maintained that faith alone was initiatory and that circumcision is but a ratificatory sign.  McKee picks up on this in his commentary on Philippians 3:2-4:

'Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Messiah Yeshua and put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence in the flesh.  If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more'

[COMMENTARY] "...We need to [remember] how in various places in the Apostolic Scriptures, 'circumcision' (Grk. peritome...) includes more than just the removal of the foreskin...'Circumcision' in the Apostolic Scriptures is a frequent reference to not only a physical operation, but more especially to the act of conversion to Judaism.  In this framework, what can appear to be Paul speaking against a physical act is more a statement of him speaking against ritual proselyte conversion to Judaism being required for inclusion in the community of God....It is right to say that Paul was infuriated by those who insisted that those uncircumcised were not full Believers or even true Believers, members of the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), as reconciliation with God is accomplished through His Son Yeshua--and not a physical or proselytic act," (Phil., pgs. 73-74).


As always, when reviewing a commentary by McKee, I must state the following disclaimer:  it is impossible to perform an adequate review since such a variety of points are necessarily raised in a commentary of this type.  What I can say though, with great confidence, is that this commentary is a must-have for every Messianic library!


  1. Shalom Brother thanks for finding this one...

    Do you think it would be a good teaching to go through with a group who are interested in Messianic Judaism but not quite ready to make the jump?

  2. Matheus Machado RincoDecember 2, 2013 at 6:57 AM

    Peter, I say it again, you should definetly start reading Mark Nanos' books and articles. There are a lot of those in his website! Read it!

  3. Andre,

    I think that Tim Hegg's Fellow Heirs is one of the greatest if not the greatest introductions to the Messianic viewpoint. I'll try to have a review out in the next couple of days.

    You can purchase the book here:

  4. I'll check out the site. I've read a number of his articles and glanced at his book on Galatians. He's against the One-Law position. But he's a good scholar and worthy of review.

  5. Matheus Machado RincoDecember 3, 2013 at 4:55 AM

    You see, it may seem he is against the one Law position, but, he he is at least ambiguous in his books. I sent him an e-mail asking him what is his position after all about the gentiles practicing Torah and his response was basically that he believes that what Paul advocated was that gentiles would practice Torah like the King Izates (basically all torah, without circumcision).
    You should really read his articles on Phillipians 3.


  6. He is definitely ambiguous in his conclusions, in his Romans commentary, it seems he is in one sense or another advocating for a One Law scenario, but then the opposite in his Galatians commentary... I really enjoy his Philippians 3 commentary, I think he nails it when he concludes, that Paul's points concerning his Jewish status, are not the first priority, instead Yeshua is, however this does not mean Paul considered his Jewish status as nothing. It was simply a priority of issues. We can see in some parts of Messianic Judaism, that this priority has been lost, and Jewish identity is the main focus.

    I have never seen him consider or play the idea that maybe Paul was against the 'proselyte ritual', which has no place in Torah, and thus was not against 'circumcision' in its basic commanded form. Instead, he argues that Paul had no issue with the proselyte ritual, only that it was not for gentiles, thus saying that Paul was against circumcision entirely, concerning gentiles... But that is a catch-22 for anyone who takes Paul's writings to be scripture, because if the proselyte ritual is legitimate, then Paul is saying, that the Gospel and the Proselyte Ritual are in opposition, meaning the Gospel is in opposition in regard to the Torah, as if things have changed. As if saying, the Torah had gentiles going through the proselyte ritual, but now since Messiah came, the proselyte ritual is against God. I think it makes more sense to argue, that the Proselyte Ritual, was not what the Torah taught concerning conversion (see Acts 15), which we know the Torah did not teach Proselyte Ritual, thus it is a fact, the question is whether or not this is Paul's argument.

  7. I have also heard recommendations about Nanos' books. If I wasn't already backed up on reading, I would seek those out. But I think they may be very useful for the theologically minded who want to see what scripture says.