A Denver Journal Review
Raymond F. Collins, Second Corinthians. Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013. $27.99. xviii + 302 pp. Pap. ISBN 978-0-8010-3186.
The Paideia Commentary series has established itself as a solid series of concise works that focus on the final form of the biblical text, highlighting narrative flow, rhetorical devices and structure, and commenting particularly on relevant historical background and theological significance. Writers come from Evangelical, centrist to slightly liberal Protestant and Roman Catholic backgrounds but all are committed at some level to the authority of the text.
This, most recent contribution to the series comes from a longtime professor of New Testament at the Catholic University of America, now in retirement, who is the highly respected author of numerous books and commentaries, including 1 Corinthians for the Sacra Pagina series, the Pastoral Epistles for the New Testament Library, and a major introduction to the New Testament for Doubleday.
While Collins is fully aware of the numerous partition theories for 2 Corinthians, he treats it as a unity in its finished form. His dating and setting remain traditional—Paul en route to Corinth in the mid-50s after 1 Corinthians, a separate trip and lost letter to Corinth, and after receiving encouraging news from Titus about the church resolving a number of its problems. Still, there is the collection and false teachers to deal with, who may have been some combination of Torah-obedient Jewish Christians and spiritual enthusiasts.
At a number of junctures, Collins takes seriously the “we” forms as indicative of genuine co-authorship on the part of Paul and Timothy (1:1). Paul’s emotional transparency in 1:8-11 is in keeping with ancient rhetoric’s commendation of that feature in oratory. Against the majority of interpreters in church history but with numerous recent commentators, Collins does not see the offender in 2:5-11 who is to be restored as the same man punished in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5. Chapter 3:7-18 forms a midrash on Exodus 34:29-35, strikingly similar to portions of the contemporary Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum of pseudo-Philo. Speaking with boldness (3:12) was viewed as helping an audience believe in the truth of the orator’s convictions.
The focus on death in 4:7-18 fits Greco-Roman biographers’ conviction that the way a person died revealed much about their character and significance. The emphasis on Christ’s resurrection in 1 Corinthians provides the foundation for what logically follows—the believer’s resurrection—in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. The elliptical 5:21 teaches that “because of Christ’s death and resurrection, humanity’s state of sin has been exchanged for a condition of justification” (p. 127). The catalogues of Paul’s sufferings in 6:3-10 and elsewhere are meant to encourage beleaguered Christians to hold fast to their faith in commitment to Christ. “God sustains us with many gifts even in the midst of what sometimes seems to be overwhelming adversity” (p. 140). Christ and Beliar (the devil) remain the two overarching competitors for human allegiance (6:14-7:1). While “the careful reader of Paul’s missive should not psychoanalyze Paul’s experience of consolation and joy,” in 7:5-16 “it is difficult to miss the exuberance that issues from Paul’s experience” (p. 161).
The poor in Judea for which the collection references in chapters 8-9 is undertaken are not merely those, like the majority in the empire, who live a fairly hand-to-mouth existence, but the truly destitute. The goal in helping them is not equality but “equity”—a better translation of isotēs in 8:14. Chapter 9:1 need not indicate a literary seam but may be the rhetorical device of preterition, when a speaker declares that he need not say (or repeat) something but actually does so in the process of making the disclaimer. The collection is not merely pragmatic, it contains ethical, ecclesial, Christological and theological dimensions, disclosing the nature of God, Christ, the church and Christians’ responsibility to one another.
The abrupt change of tone in chapters 10-13, accompanied by Paul’s repeated insistent on boasting, albeit in his weaknesses, is driven by a logic that could be summarized as “you made me do it!” (p. 193; cf. 12:11). The three stages of spiritual warfare in 10:4-6 correspond exactly to the three stages of Roman military warfare—demolishing fortifications, taking prisoners, and punishing resistance. Whereas the false teachers measure themselves by how much they infringe on others’ territory, Paul wants to evangelize virgin territory and measure himself solely by God’s standards (10:13-16). “Paul’s self-defense contains an important observation about the use of power and authority in the church of God.” it is to be used solely “in building up the community as the church of God, a community of faith, loyal to Christ, and following the example of Jesus” (p. 209).
Second Corinthians 11:4 is the lone place where Paul uses “Jesus” without a title attached for something other than the merely human Jesus. But it may suggest that the false Jesus that the interlopers are promoting is “an exalted Christ, with little or no reference to his suffering and death” (p. 215). In startling contrast, Paul’s willingness to suffer the thirty-nine lashes from synagogues five times (11:24) shows the extent to which he cared about the lost among his own people and his identification with Christ’s death. “The mystery of the cross can be articulated as the weakness of the crucified Christ being met by the power of God operative in the resurrection” (p. 247; cf. 13:9).
I find extremely little with which to disagree throughout Collins’ fine work. “Joy” for Paul was more a fruit (Gal. 5:22) than a gift of the Spirit (contra p. 53, though Collins may not be using the word in its technical sense). Collins does not interact with Colin Kruse’s TNTC commentary or EQ journal article that ably defends that the incestuous man of 1 Corinthians 5 is the same as the person who offended Paul prior to 2 Corinthians and was subsequently restored. On several occasions he labels an ABA structure a chiasm instead of merely an inclusio. But the very name for chiasm, from the X-shaped letter chi, requires at least an ABBA structure. Collins too quickly assumes that 2 Corinthians 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 stand in tension with each other on the intermediate state, without exploring the various ways they have been reconciled. “Because of the meekness and graciousness of Christ” p. 197) in the context of 10:1 should probably be viewed as irony, which he does not consider. And 11:8 does not contradict Philippians 4:15-16, as he claims, since the latter explicitly limits itself to the early days of the Philippians’ acquaintance with the gospel.
But these demurrals are few and far between in the midst of long stretches of theologically rich and exegetically persuasive commentary. I did not even notice a typographical mistake anywhere, a true rarity in today’s fast-paced world of digital publishing. For mid-range commentaries on an English translation of the text of 2 Corinthians, Paul Barnett’s and David Garland’s consistently evangelical volumes in the NICNT and NAC series, respectively, will still be my top two choices. But Collins’ Paideia volume comes in a close third in my estimation and belongs on anyone’s list of key up-to-date, reliable commentaries on this enigmatic but richly rewarding New Testament epistle.
Craig L. Blomberg, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of New Testament