Monday, August 25, 2008

Colossians Commentary - Lessons Learned (Part 1)

I'm nearing the end of my Colossians/Philemon commentary and this is what I've learned:

On commentary writing:

1. Commentary writing ain't all that easy. It is hard because you have to say something on nearly everything and you might not have something new, special, or particularly innovative to say on every single topic or issue that arises. Some issues and problems apprehend your attention more than others.

2. Commentary writing can go on ad infinitum. There are so many grammatical matters you could go into and so much secondary literature to read and interact with. In a fairly short commentary (55K in my case) I had to pick the issues and debates I was gonna enter into and select the commentators that I was gonna principally dialogue with. This was an intermediate commentary so there wasn't gonna be stacks of critical discussions on manuscript variations and massive discussions on every possible view.

3. How to write a commentary? For me, it is important that you don't end up writing a commentary on other commentaries (which can be easily done). I think it's important to read the text in Greek a few times, read a few English translations, look at one or two commentaries to get a grip on the major issues (grammatical and theological), then write your comments with only lexical aids in hand, and then consult the secondary literature.

4. What are the best Colossians commentaries? This is a hard one (but see the list over at Best Commentaries - so many commentaries are still coming out: Sumney, Pao, Beale, Moo). If I had to pick one, it would probably be N.T. Wright's in the TNTC series, which is a good pocket size commentary packed with adequate detail and thoughtful reflection and is great value for money. My second choice is a tie between Peter O'Brien (WBC - soon to be revized by Clinton Arnold) and James Dunn (NIGTC) for their thoroughness and clarity. My third tier pick is Markus Barth's Colossians (AB) and Philemon (ECC) volumes since I continue to enjoy his writings immensely - even if he is opaque at times - and also Andrew Lincoln (NIBC) has some great stuff too and is always to the point. Fourth, Lohse (Hermeneia) provides good background in light of the Dead Sea Scrolls, McL. Wilson (ICC) shows the relevance of the Nag Hammadi literature, and Charles Talbert (Paideia) has some background info from Greco-Roman literature. In terms of multi-volume commentaries, Andrew Lincoln's is a standout in the NIBC vol. 10 and it is a great volume with Richard Hays on Galatians and James Dunn on the Pastorals as well - one I recommend to buy! Although I have not been able to get hold of Todd Wilson's Colossians' contribution in the Revised Expositor's Bible Commentary just yet, that might well be another big gem in a diamond mine. Best German commentaries are probably Michael Wolter and Joachim Gnilka, but more so the former (sadly Schlatter was disappointing). Best commentary on the Greek is Murray Harris hands down, but don't neglect Moule. Best older commentaries are easily Lightfoot and Chrysostom. Sadly, once Colossae has been excavated (which is beginning!), the critical commentaries will need to be re-written in light of archaeological evidence that comes to the fore.

5. Studies on Colossians to consult are: Clinton Arnold, The Colossian Syncretism - argues for a syncrestic background to the Colossian heresy. While I think his overall thesis is wrong this volume is a paragon of how evangelicals can do really good cutting biblical scholarship. He almost convinced me! Christian Stettler, Der Kolosserhymnus - great piece of work, I shall have to read it again more slowly, he argues that the hymn emerged from Greek-speaking Jewish Christians circles in the context of their worship of Jesus.

In a future post, I'll nail my colours to the mast of a number of issues on Colossians itself.


John Dyer said...

Dr. Bird,
Would you be willing to put together short reviews of all the Colossians commentaries that we could enter into (100 words and a 5-star rating)? You can even rate your own before anyone else :)

volker said...

Hi Mike,
is the 2007 version of Wright's commentary a thorough revision of the 1986 version? It has the same page numbers...