Michael Bird is lecturer in theology at the Bible College of Queensland, but based on his commentary, Colossians and Philemon, it is apparent he’s not simply an academic highbrow. Moving deftly between text and context, Bird’s concern for the 21st-century church matches his attention to the Bible. Thus, like one of John Stott’s commentaries, Bird’s Colossians and Philemon overflows with exegetical nuggets, biblical-theological insights, and heart-probing applications.
Bird starts with a 30-page introduction—quite a lot in a commentary that totals 147 pages—detailing the relationship between Ephesians and Colossians, affirming Pauline authorship, and examining the setting of the respective letters. In particular, he devotes 10 pages to explaining the ambiguities of the “Colossian Philosophy.” Bird’s introduction is content-rich.
When he moves into the text, his commentary is fast-paced and not as in-depth as other commentaries (cf. P. T. O’Brien, Douglas Moo). Yet, it does not lack for biblical and theological insights. Rejecting the temptation to be a commentary on other commentaries (vii), Bird has translated and examined the text for himself and presented a commentary that stands on its own, all the while demonstrating awareness of other interpreters.
Concerning his method, Bird follows the aims of the New Covenant Commentary Series to focus on larger portions of Scripture and not to atomize the text. So Bird focuses on the message of Colossians more than the minutia. With this scope in mind, he displays broad theological acumen as he selectively employs the tools of textual exegesis, rhetorical reconstruction, culture and history, and biblical theology. Accordingly, his approach is, in a word, eclectic, but it remains faithful to Paul’s message.
Michael Bird’s commentary on Colossians and Philemon in the New Covenant Commentary Series pays close attention to the socio-historical context, the flow and dynamics of the text, their argumentative strategy, theological message, and the meaning of Colossians and Philemon for the contemporary church today.
Thus, the reader in short span is introduced to a number of issues in the text. In one passage Bird will show the inter-textual connections concerning Christ and wisdom (47ff), and in another he provides a concise excursus devoted to discussing and critiquing the theme of anti-imperialism, a theme popularized by N. T. Wright (90–93). Interspersed throughout his commentary is an awareness of the original language, verbal aspect, and lexical details that help bring out Paul’s meaning in the text.
Moving from text to application, Bird includes six sections dedicated to applying the books of Colossians and Philemon to contemporary readers. These sections, which he calls “fusing the horizons,” help today’s readers interact with the biblical passages. In these sections, Bird’s passion for the church, missions, and evangelism becomes evident, as he helps readers appropriate God’s Word for their lives.
Overall, Colossians and Philemon is filled with illuminating and illustrative material. For preachers, Bird’s work cannot replace the technical commentaries based on the original language, but his commentary would make an excellent biblical-theological supplement. For Sunday School teachers, campus ministers, and other lay leaders, Colossians and Philemon would make a great tool for understanding the Christ-exalting message of Colossians. Moreover, as the second volume in the freshly-minted New Covenant Commentary Series, Bird’s commentary promises good things ahead, especially since he is the co-editor. (Future volumes include Gordon Fee on Revelation, Brian Vickers on Galatians, and a number of other international scholars).