Review of Pheme Perkin’s First Corinthians (ΠΑΙΔΕΙΑ Commentaries on the New Testament)


First Corinthians

ΠΑΙΔΕΙΑ Commentaries on the New Testament
Pheme Perkins
Baker Academic, 2012

Thanks to Baker for this review copy

With the publication of Pheme Perkins commentary on First Corinthians, the excellent ΠΑΙΔΕΙΑ Commentaries on the New Testament now has eight volumes in print (two more volumes are scheduled to be published later this year: 1-2 Peter and James-Jude), Each subsequent volume continues to solidify this set as a must have for every pastor and scholar.

I cannot say enough great things about this informative and essential set of New Testament commentaries. The ΠΑΙΔΕΙΑ series is informative and up-to-date in New Testament scholarship, all while being compact and concise. Each of the volumes in ΠΑΙΔΕΙΑ highlight important cultural practices or literary affinities shared with other contemporary Greco-Roman documents by means of visual aids and sidebar examples from primary source material, paying close attention to the ancient narrative and rhetorical strategies of the biblical author. By doing so, this allows the text of the New Testament to shape both the theology of moral practice of the readers. Unlike some critical commentaries, the ΠΑΙΔΕΙΑ New Testament commentaries comments on the final, canonical form. What this means is that instead of long, technical discussions on the how the New Testament came to be, the ΠΑΙΔΕΙΑ series comments on the final canonical text as we have it today. This frees the commentator to do what a commentator does: comment on the text.

Pheme Perkins contribution is no exception. A professor at Boston College, Perkins is the author of a wide variety of New Testament subjects. She has written a number of commentaries on the letters of Paul, the Gnostic Gospel, the Synoptic Gospels and women in the New Testament. She brings her vast knowledge of the New Testament and Greco-Roman backgrounds to the text of First Corinthians.

In the introduction (pg. 3-47), issues regarding the urban setting of Christianity in the first-century are helpfully highlighted from the start. Instead of beginning with the traditional author, date, theology of, etc., Perkins discusses the practices and habits of the people of Corinth. This allows the reader to gain insight into the everyday life of first-century Corinth—this insight becomes valuable as your progress through the text of First Corinthians (i.e. 1 Cor 8; 10). As for the date of First Corinthians, Perkins suggests a date early in the spring of 55/56 AD (pg. 18). The discussion on letter writing (pg. 19-28) and all that it entails (i.e. writing, delivering, reading, etc.) is one of my favorite sections of the introduction. Perkins masterfully explains the intricacies of letter writing in antiquity. This includes the materials used for writing as well as the means of delivery.

The final section of the introduction is on the theological themes of 1 Corinthians. Perkins discusses very important topics in a concise manner; theological themes such as salvation, Scripture, the Jesus tradition in Paul, the Spirit, and resurrection are explained clearly. Because of the limits of the series, it may have been more helpful to focus on fewer themes, giving Perkins more pages to work with. For example, only a half of a page is devoted to the discussion of resurrection, which in light of 1 Cor 15 and the discussion of resurrection is somewhat puzzling.

The commentary proper is broken up into eight chapters:

The Letter opening (1:1-9)

  • Against Divisions: God’s Wisdom (1:10-2:16)
  • Against Divisions: Paul and Apollos as Exempla (3:1-4:21)
  • Reports about Unholy Conduct among Believers (5:1-6:20)
  • Questions in a Letter from Corinth (7:1-11:1)
  • Problems in the Community Assembled for Worship (11:2-14:40)
  • Reports That Some Deny the Resurrection (15:1-58)
  • The Letter Closing (16:1-24)

Each of the eight chapters follows a similar format for the periscope at hand. First is a section on introductory matters. These introductory matter are informed by the section being commented on. For example, there are sections on important text-critical issues, vocabulary and themes of the pericope, and others. Following a discussion on introductory matters is the commentary proper. Concluding each chapter is a section on the theological issues that are raised by the text of 1 Corinthians.

I find this format to be useful and very helpful for the reader. It allows for consistency and also helps keep the commentator on track. Often times I have seen commentators go of the beaten track to chase rabbits, never to return again. This is not the case with Perkins work. She allows for discussion on text-critical issues, lexical matters, and other important matters for commentators to highlight. In my opinion, this is what makes this series so valuable: it allows the commentator to go into detail without skipping over textual matters that are important and should be included in commentaries, regardless of the audience.

Commentary writing is no easy task. Because of editorial or publisher decisions, an author may find him or her self handcuffed by word limits and other various things, which may stifle a commentators discussion. That is not to say that all concise commentaries inevitably sacrifice depth on the altar of pragmatism. Far from it! But I must believe that for any commentator writing on a book of the Bible there is a sense that not every rock has been unturned. Nevertheless, Perkins offers a concise and jammed pack commentary on First Corinthians. There is much to be said for this excellent contribution to Pauline studies. This is the perfect commentary to have alongside your Bible as you read and study through the text of First Corinthians. Perkins’ will guide, not dominate your study of the text. I highly recommend this volume along with the rest of the ΠΑΙΔΕΙΑ Commentaries on the New Testament.

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