AUSTRALIAN BIBLICAL REVIEW
BOOK REVIEW Published in Volume 58, 2010
GORDON D. FEE, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2009).
Pp. 394. Hardback. $US44.00.
Gordon Fee has already written two important and, in places, ground breaking commentaries on 1 Corinthians and Philippians for the New International Commentary on the New Testament series. His third contribution replaces an earlier volume by Leon Morris on the Thessalonian correspondence. Fee’s treatment is borne of three decades of teaching these letters and bears all the hallmarks of his other scholarly work in the commentary and monograph genres. Above all the other merits of this volume stands the fact that Fee is a consummate exegete whose work will endure not so much on the basis of its novelty but as a result of its clear and careful attention to and treatment of the text.
Those who have read Fee’s work will know what to expect. The commentary leads the reader to pay particular attention to the structural and syntactical features of Paul’s argumentation. Every gar is explained, every participle unpacked. Fee’s ability to bring clarity to those parts of the text where the reader initially encounters apparent confusion is impressive. Students reading 1 or 2 Thessalonians in Greek could not hope for a better guide through the thornier aspects of Paul’s language and thought. Engagement with the secondary literature is largely kept to the footnotes except where a full account of alternative scholarly explanations is deemed helpful. The focus throughout is on trying to understand Paul’s words in their own context, although at the conclusion of each main section Fee makes brief summary comments with at least one eye to the possible theological and at times contextual relevance of the material.
Of course, in any commentary one looks out for the way in which the author deals with the scholarly cruxes that dominate the secondary literature. Here Fee does not let us down. His defence of the reading nepioi (children) in placed of the more commonly read epioi (gentle) 2.7 is, quite frankly, the best I have seen. The analysis of the problematic 1 Thessalonians 2.14–16 is even-handed and nuanced. Fee manages to navigate his way through the exegetical and theological issues raised by the eschatological material in 1 Thessalonians 4–5 and 2 Thessalonians 2 in such a way as to help the reader understand the likely situation in Thessalonica that gives rise to such expectations as well as Paul’s response to them.
In the Preface to the volume, Fee confesses to being exasperated by some of the scholarly literature on these letters. This sense of exasperation comes through at times in the exegesis, where Fee is quick to dismiss theories or speculative reconstructions that seem to impose themselves on the text rather than emerge from a detailed study of it. Nowhere is this more the case than in his discussion of the authorship of 2 Thessalonians. Fee is bold enough to suggest that anyone who writes a commentary on that letter will almost inevitably come to defend Pauline authorship, because the arguments usually offered in support of pseudonymity (the work of scholars who by and large have not written commentaries) are so weak. The introduction to the 2 Thessalonians commentary lists nine aspects of that letter that would seem to be almost impossible were Paul not the author. For this reviewer, these comments are suggestive enough to warrant a re-thinking of my own previously held view.
In conclusion, Fee’s commentary is neither the last word, nor much of the time is it a commentary that offers a new word, in the sense of a novel or innovative interpretation. Yet, in so far as the genre of commentary writing ought to be characterised by a clear focus on the text and a careful exposition of its background, content and possible meanings, Fee has once again done an admirable job, and scholars and especially students of Paul will be grateful for the wisdom and insight that this commentary preserves.
Centre for Theology and Ministry
29 Morrison Close, Parkville VIC 3052