Saturday, February 05, 2011

Book Notice: 1 Corinthians (Ciampa and Rosner)

Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner
First Letter to The Corinthians
PNTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010.
Available at

There are so many good 1 Corinthians commentaries. Fee and Thiselton are the must-reads, but one can hardly neglect Garland, Hays, and Witherington either (then there's Blomberg and Morris which ain't bad either). And Richard Horsley's and Jerome Murphy O'Connor's studies on 1 Corinthians are worth checking into too. But I have to say that Ciampa and Rosner have added another excellent book to the list of top Corinthian reads by producing a solid commentary that contains several unique approaches.

Ciampa and Rosner (henceforth CR) see the problems in Corinth emerging from the inability of the Corinthians to let the gospel message shape their gentile and Graeco-Roman lives and consequently misunderstand the message and misbehave. So the problems are fundamentally about relating to cultural values rather than, say, theological like Gnosticism or over-realized eschatology. The main subjects of 1 Corinthians according to CR are wisdom, sexuality, worship, and resurrection/consummation. The OT is key in Paul's exhortation in 1 Corinthians, esp. Deuteronomy and Isaiah. CR do not apply the categories of ancient rhetoric to 1 Corinthians since such rhetoric was rarely applied in letters (though see my Expository Times essay for a qualified approval of using rhetorical categories to letters). Another feature is that the authors apply the categories of verbal aspect to the Greek text though they seem to cautiously accept that Greek verbs do have tense unless contextually cancelled. CR believe that 1 Corinthians provides some good resources to enable Christians to meet the challenges of postmodernism. They summarize the argument of 1 Corinthians as follows:

Paul's attempt to tell the church of God in Corinth that they are part of the fulfillment of the Old Testament expectation of worldwide worship of the God of Israel, and as God's eschatological temple they must act in a manner appropriate to their pure and holy status by becoming unified, shunning pagan vices, and glorifying God in an obedience to the lordship of Jesus Christ (52).

For some highlights: 1:30: "Although the four qualities[righteousness, holiness, redemption, and wisdom] both characterize Christ and are imparted by Christ, the emphasis is on the fact that believers have them by virtue of being in union with Christ" (109); 4:9-13: "A better explanation of the Corinthians' spiritual pretensions than assuming that they betray a belief that the decisive eschatological events have already taken place is set forth in ancient sources. Imagining oneself to be be filled, rich, and reigning was in fact a claim made by Cynic and Stoic philosophers ... Hence, the Corinthian problems are not to be attributed to their faulty theology or premature eschatology so much as to their conformity to the norms and values of pagan culture. Paul's strategy is to encourage the Corinthians 'to understand themselves in terms of an apocalyptic narrative that locates present existence in between the cross and the parousia' [Hays]. It is true that the eschatological framework found throughout chapters 1-4 is at the heart of Paul's attack on Corinthian boasting. But eschatology is not so much the problem as the solution" (179-80); 7:10-11: "Paul stands with Jesus in holding that divorce may be justified only where one partner clearly manifests a radical refusal to respect one's marital commitments and maintain the fundamental integrity of the marriage" (293). 7:26: "Paul was not expecting the world to come to an immediate end, it seems, or he would not have been warning people about the implications of singleness and marriage for a life with more or less stress. It seems likely that even if he understood the present crisis to be part of larger eschatological developments, it would pass at some point" (337). 9:21: "Although Paul understood himself to live under the conditions of the new covenant in Christ rather than under the law of Moses, he was happy enough to observe the law when living among those who might have stumbled if he had not. Paul probably has in mind issues like the observance of food and Sabbath laws as well as halakic standards of the communities where he ministered" (427). 11:3: "Paul seems to be affirming that the creation pattern is still significant and cannot be shrugged off. While there is a tension between creation and new creation (esp. fallen creation and new creation), creation is the context in which Christians live out their lives, and it cannot be passed off as irrelevant" (510). 15:29: "It may be that Paul describes the people to whom he is referring in the third person rather than first- or second-person plural ('those who are baptized on account of the dead' rather than 'you/we who were baptized for the dead') because different people find different things about the Christian message particularly appealing. If so, Paul has in mind those who were particularly concerned about the afterlife and whose primary motivation in responding to the gospel message was its promise that those who trust in Christ need not fear death, since the dead in Christ will be raised in glory and power."

A fine volume and worth having in your personal library.

I should note that the next big 1 Corinthians commentary to look out for is Andrew Clark in the WBC series!


steve said...

hey, mike, what about Fitzmyer's AB commentary? advantages? disadvantages?

Michael F. Bird said...

Steve, I haven't read Fitzmyer on 1 Cor. He is a first class scholar, but reviews I've read suggest that it is not his best work.