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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 62, 2014

R. BIERINGER, M. S. IBITA, D. KUREK-CHOMYCZ, T. A. VOLLMER (eds), Theologizing in the Corinthian Conflict: Studies in the Exegesis and Theology of 2 Corinthians (Leuven: Peeters, 2013). Pp. xi + 475. Hard-back. ISBN 9789042927544. €89.00 RRP.

Theologizing in the Corinthian Conflict is a collection of twenty essays, most of which were originally delivered as papers at the European Association of Biblical Studies annual meetings in 2006, 2007 and 2008. The papers are grouped in three parts, which focus respectively on chapters 1–7, chapters 8–9 and chapters 10–13 of 2 Corinthians in the canonical form of the letter.

Part I contains eleven essays on passages and themes from 2 Cor 1–7, beginning with a pair of essays by Ma. Marilou Ibita on the narrative world and social relationships of 2 Cor 1–7 (making use of the methodology which Norman Peterson applied to his study of Philemon in Rediscovering Paul). Dominika Kurek-Chomycz, in the following chapter, focuses on the unusual use of phaneroō with an olfactory object in 2 Cor 2:14, placing it within a pattern of instances within the letter in which Paul uses phaneroō language to depict his own apostolic existence as a public, sense-perceptible epiphanic medium. John Dennis uses Paul’s letter/Spirit contrasts in 2 Cor 3:6 and Rom 2:29 as a case study in how one might draw conclusions about Paul’s theology on a given issue without flattening the distinctions between his letters and their various rhetorical contexts. Albert Hogeterp explores the new covenant language of 2 Cor 3:4–18 within its Second Temple Jewish context, arguing that the notion of progressive revelation that Paul associates with the new covenant has important similarities with the understanding expressed in LXX Jer 38:31–34 and Qumran texts such as CD-A, CD-B and 1QpHab. Jan Lambrecht’s study of 2 Cor 4:16–5:10 asks whether and how the aversion to being ‘found naked’ that Paul expresses in 5:2–4 might be reconciled with the desire to ‘go away from the body and get home to the Lord’ that he seems to imply in 5:8. Reimund Bieringer contributes a close study of Paul’s apethanen … hyper expressions in 2 Cor 5:14–15, finding a complex and interrelated set of representative, substitutionary and benefactional meanings, generated by Paul’s adaptation of a traditional formula to the specific historical circumstances of the Corinthians. Christof Strüder’s chapter is somewhat similar in approach, closely examining the syntactical and semantic relationships between Paul’s references to “new creation” (5:17) and “the righteousness of God” (5:21) within the rhetoric of 2 Cor 5:11–6:10, and concluding that the two expressions are mutually interpreting—the former guarding against a merely forensic interpretation of the latter, and the latter preventing an overly ontological reading of the former. Emmanuel Nathan’s study of 2 Cor 6:14–7:1 rehearses the various arguments for and against the authenticity of the ‘fragment’ and its integrity within the letter, before adding some Gadamer-inspired hermeneutical reflections on the priority of the quest to understanding the passage within its final/canonical context over attempts to construct a composition-historical narrative that explains how the passage came to be within the letter. Volker Rabens also examines 6:14–7:1, arguing that the passage’s call to separation from ‘unbelievers’ functions as a double entendre, in which the primary reference is to idolatrous people outside the church but a secondary reference to Paul’s opponents would also have been discernible for the letters original readers/hearers (especially in the second and subsequent readings of the letter). Part I closes with an essay by Robin Griffith-Jones which argues for a sharp distinction between Paul’s visionary experience of the glory of Christ and the mediated vision that the Corinthians are encouraged to see in Paul.

Part II contains five essays on 2 Cor 8–9. Eve-Maria Becker reviews the literary-critical debate over the place of these two chapters within the epistolary sequence of Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthians, highlighting the implications of each theory for the exegesis and theological interpretation of the collection-chapters. Binz Antony examines the depiction of God in 2 Cor 8–9, as a case-study in how Paul’s theologising speaks of God not as a “subject of vague speculation” but rather as “an inalienable reality of individual and interpersonal dimensions of human life” (316). Gesila Nneka Uzukwu explores the meaning and rhetorical function of the expressions Paul uses in describing the generosity of the Macedonians in 2 Cor 8:1–5, and John Barclay focuses on the description in 2 Cor 8:9 of the generosity of Christ, arguing for a causal rather than a concessive reading of plousios ōn. The final chapter of Part II is David Bolton, who argues that the larger context of the collection-chapters within the letter and its scriptural intertexts implies an understanding in which the Gentile bearers of the collection are to be viewed as participants in Israel’s return from exile—not merely as Gentile servants bringing tributes to a restored Israel but as part of the restored people of God.

Part III contains just four essays, all of which focus on particular verses within 2 Cor 10–13. David Bolton contributes a second chapter, examining the reference to Paul’s synagogal beatings in 2 Cor 11:24 and exploring its implications for how he viewed his relationship with Judaism. Cosmin-Constantin Murariu zeroes in on the language that Paul uses to describe his visionary experience in 2 Cor 12:4, arguing that both arrēta rhēmata and ha ouk exon anthrōpō lalēsai are about the impossibility of expressing the experience in human words, not merely the impermissibility of doing so. James Harrison explores the Graeco-Roman background against which Paul’s readers would have heard his anguished plea in 2 Cor 12:14–16, maintaining his contention in earlier publications that Paul is critiquing the reciprocity conventions of the dominant cultural understanding but teasing out more of the complexity within popular expectations of parental benefaction and the impact that they would have had among the Corinthians. Finally, in chapter 20, Thomas Vollmer contributes a study of the benediction with which Paul closes the letter, arguing for a subjective reading of the genitive construction hē koinōnia tou pneumatos and highlighting the theological implications of this reading.

As the title of the book suggests, the closest thing to a unifying thread tying the twenty chapters in the volume together is their common focus on “theological topics in exegetical perspective” (3). In some chapters (e.g. those by John Dennis and Binz Antony) there is an explicit focus on what counts as “theology” and “theologizing” within Paul’s letters, and on the methodological questions that arise when attempting to offer an analysis or reconstruction of it. More commonly (e.g. within the chapters by Dominika Kurek-Chomycz, Reimund Bieringer, Christof Strüder and John Barclay), particular theological themes emerge from the close examination of exegetical questions. Either way—with or without explicit reflection on the methodological problems of theological interpretation—the essays collected within the volume are consistently meticulous in their exegesis and rich in their theological implications; taken together, they add up to a convincing demonstration that there are still fresh and important things to be learned through the close and careful reading of Paul’s letters with theological questions in mind.

Review by
Morling College