BOOK REVIEW Published in Volume 53, 2005
MURRAY J. HARRIS, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005). Pp. cxxviii+989. $US75.00.
This volume maintains the tradition of meticulous scholarship established by earlier volumes in the series. It is, above all, a scholar’s commentary, a comprehensive commentary. The bibliography, which is set out in an exceptionally clear and accessible form, contains more than 1,600 items. Whatever the topic under discussion, whether it be the charges that were levelled against Paul by his opponents in Corinth, the causes of the need of the Jerusalem church for economic relief, Paul’s historical, theological and pastoral motives for promoting the collection for Jerusalem, or even the range of Greek words for “basket,” Harris’s treatment is always exemplary in its thoroughness.
Every commentator on 2 Corinthians faces a number of critical and historical questions. Harris’s position on the critical questions tends to be conservative. Thus, he defends the integrity of the canonical 2 Corinthians, but concedes that an interval may have occurred between the writing of chapters 1–9 and chapters 10–13, during which news reached Paul of further challenges to his authority at Corinth. He even considers it probable that each of Paul’s letters, apart from Philemon, was written over a considerable period of time, perhaps days or even weeks or months. But, as Harris himself makes clear, a central aim of Paul’s, in chapters 1–7, is to express his great relief at the positive response of the Corinthians to the severe letter. For my part, I cannot believe that he would have been content to wait weeks or even months to express his relief to them. As for the provenance of the section from 6:14 to 7:1, Harris believes that it stems in toto from Paul’s own hand, but concedes that he may have composed it at an earlier time, under Essene influence.
On the much-discussed question of the identity of Paul’s opponents, Harris’s view is that they were a group of Palestinian intruders who came to Corinth as self-appointed agents of a Judaising program. They claimed to be Christian, illegitimately invoked the authority of the Twelve, and found common cause with a group of Corinthian “proto-Gnostics” in their attempt to undermine Paul and his apostolic work. They are not to be identified with the false brethren of Galatians 2:4 but represent a different group of Judaisers who were pursuing different tactics. Hence the absence of any mention of circumcision in Paul’s references to them. Along with Käsemann, Barrett and Martin, Harris distinguishes the “false apostles” from the “superlative apostles,” and suggests that the latter expression represents Paul’s own ironic description of the exalted view of the Twelve held by the false apostles.
Another question, which has been much discussed in recent literature, is how far Paul’s letters show the influence of Graeco-Roman rhetoric. Harris is sceptical whether Paul has consciously developed his argument in accordance with the successive divisions of classical rhetoric, but remarks, sensibly, that “any document of the length of 2 Corinthians that is (1) written by a highly educated person, (2) apologetic in character, (3) logical in presentation, and (4) aimed at winning over an audience is likely to display the basic ingredients of forensic, deliberative or epideictic rhetoric-but not necessarily in a recognizable or schematic sequence” (p. 109).
The exegesis proper is marked by the same thoroughness and attention to detail as is exhibited by the Introduction. However, Harris is well aware of the danger that the reader will lose sight of the main thread of the argument in a welter of detail and uses several strategies to help the reader keep on track. Before embarking on the detailed exegesis of a passage, he regularly summarises the drift of the passage in two or three sentences. Wherever Paul’s train of thought is especially complex, he sets out the essential thrust of the passage in a simplified form. For example, he sets out Paul’s proposed and actualised travel plans diagrammatically. In his exegesis of 6:3–10, he lists in chronological order the various events or experiences referred to, or implied by, the passage-all fifteen of them. He also provides a table of Paul’s movements from his conversion to his first post-conversion visit to Jerusalem.
Moreover, Harris demonstrates, again and again, the ability to sum up the thrust of a verse in a memorable sentence. To give one example: he characterises 11:23b–29 as “an avalanche of hardships that sweeps the reader along in dazed disbelief” (p. 798). Harris is to be congratulated on producing a commentary that is admirable in every way.
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