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Monday, August 17, 2015

"2 Corinthians" (George H. Guthrie)

TITLE: 2 Corinthians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
AUTHOR: George H. Guthrie
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (736 pages).

Exegetical commentaries are one of the best kinds of Bible commentaries ever published. While commentaries in general will have lots of contextual descriptions and insightful observations of the text, being exegetical means learning to journey through the Scriptures with the commentator as a wise and learned guide. Designed and written with the pastor and preacher in mind, such commentaries help to nuance the different meanings of the words used by the ancient writers. As the meaning of the individual words are being teased out, such commentaries help readers to remember the sense of the big picture. Without compromising on traditional viewpoints, this new commentary series supplies additional insights from the latest research and scholarship available. George H. Guthrie, Professor of Bible at Union University in Jackson Tennessee mentions three reasons for writing this commentary. The first is a personal one in which he studies Second Corinthians for his own "growth, understanding, and edification." In doing so, he invites readers to learn with him. True to his calling as a teacher, attempting to teach must be matched by learning. Attempting to nuance the knowledge must be matched by grappling with the text. Attempting to exegete well must be matched by personal work as well as wide scholarly references. The second reason is a conviction that the way to learn the text is continually, adopting a "comma" disposition instead of a "full-stop." The Bible is a living Word and that means the Bible had not only spoken to many in the past, it speaks to us in the present, and will also speak to others in the future. The past four decades had seen a flurry of research and scholarship on the second letter to the Corinthians. Despite the rich number of resources, it is believed that the Biblical text will never be fully exhausted. Our contexts change. Our interpretation paradigms change. Our cultural situations change. Even our understanding of various commentaries and works done can change. Third, Guthrie believes that 2 Corinthians is critical for the Church today because the issues discussed have so much relevance for the Church. Those of us concerned about Church ministry will benefit greatly through the study of 2 Corinthians. This commentary aids the process. The book is pastoral in nature, relevant to ministry, and deeply personal in our walk with God. With discouragement and sometimes despair dragging down workers in churches, this Pauline epistle has lots of encouragement and renders immense hope for all. Guthrie observes:
"At times and places in the twenty-first century, we the church are wanderers, false teachers, faithful or faithless sufferers, fellow-workers with Paul, disillusioned ministers or congregations, opponents of the true gospel, polished and competitive and powerful public speakers, or powerless leaders who long for status and popularity and social significance like a dehydrated, dying person longs for water. Especially in the American church, we too easily drift into ruts of power, posturing, position, and presentation as the pragmatic backbone of ministerial effectiveness, and 2 Corinthians offers a sobering, loud, cautionary voice against such an approach to ministry."

I don't know about you, but that sure speaks of experience of working with people in any Church or Christian organizations. Broken people break one another, directly or indirectly. When we serve God, we do not do so from the position of personal preferences or discriminations. We serve from the premise of God's calling for us regardless of how people treat us.

The All-Important Introduction chapter highlights many interesting points.
  • Need for a firm understanding of the historical setting
  • The person of Paul in the middle first Century AD
  • The unique position of Paul being a Roman citizen while at the same time thoroughly familiar with Greek and Jewish cultures
  • The city of Corinth as an important cosmopolitan center of commerce, politics, power, and culture
  • The unique problems facing the Corinthian church
  • Paul's relationship with the Corinthians
  • The reasons for the letter
Exegesis begins quickly in this book with the author using the nuances of the Greek language to argue that Paul is the single author of the whole letter. He even mapped out the number of occurrences of the Greek word (ἐγώ) and the verbal moods of the whole book to show that Paul writes from both personal as well as representing his ministry team. Guthrie hones in on the two primary dynamics of the letter: The context of travel and the content of the communications. In the former, Paul writes as a traveling evangelist trying his best to shepherd the flock, and at the same time share of his own spiritual struggles from where he was. In the latter, it pains him to see the heresies breaking up the church, and how certain quarters rejected him.

The commentary is divided into four major segments:
  1. Opening and Prologue (1:1-1:11)
  2. Integrity of Paul's Ministry (1:12-7:16)
  3. Ministry of Giving (8:1-9:15)
  4. Confrontation of Malignant Ministries (10:1-13:13)
Each passage begins with a summary in a grey box followed by an "exegesis and exploration" of the texts. Readers will be treated to a rich rendition of Greek and exegesis of the words crucial to understanding the message. Where possible, the Greek texts will be rearranged to showcase the literary structures (like chiastic) and the messages they contain. The alternate translations and nuances are particularly helpful. We appreciate a lot of the difficult choices Bible translators had to make when translating the originals into English. Guthrie does a lot of heavy lifting for us in expanding our understanding of the Greek language. Not only that, readers get a special treat when he compares and contrasts the different renditions by various English translations before putting forth his personal preferences. There is a gold mine of rich theology and content using the exegesis tool. At the end of each section, there is a brief reflection on what the passage, the exegesis, and the interpretations mean for us in our modern world. Although I would have preferred more applications and examples, I believe the intent of an exegetical commentary is not to put forth the applications for us item by item. It is by doing proper exegesis, we will be better equipped to interpret and to apply the passages to our modern era thought by thought.

Students of Greek and exegesis will find this book a welcome resource. Pastors and teachers will benefit in terms of having a ready reference. Readers in general may even be enticed with a new found appreciation for the original Greek language.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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