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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 58, 2010

ANTHONY C. THISELTON, First Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical and Pastoral Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006). Pp. xvi + 325. Hardback. $US30.00.

This is not the first commentary Thiselton has written on 1 Corinthians. In 2000 he published a massive 1,446 page effort on the Greek text. The problem with such large commentaries is that one gets lost in the detail and they become books to refer to rather than to read through. This commentary is one to read from cover to cover. It is not simply an abridgement of his earlier work. Here, Thiselton gives priority to stating his own views rather than examining whole lists of proposed interpretations. Yet he always discusses major alternatives and provides bibliographical information to go with them. His other aim is to give higher profile to how the apostle engages with pastoral and practical issues in the church and how this relates to the world today.

The Introduction concentrates on discussing the life and culture of first century Corinth in ways which assist an understanding of the issues raised in Paul’s letter. His analysis of the rhetoric of audience appeal and of resonances with consumerism and post-modernity are particularly insightful. Not much space is devoted to matters such as date and unity. Thiselton states that the unity and integrity of the apostle is inescapable and he demonstrates this convincingly within the commentary. “It fits together as a single, coherent exposition of God’s grace and the centrality of the cross and the resurrection. Throughout the epistle love is a unifying theme. Love builds (8:1).”

The actual commentary includes Thiselton’s own translation, which is invaluable in itself. He then discusses the text, justifying his interpretation. Finally, each section ends with suggestions for reflection. These could be used personally or in group and class discussions. They are always closely connected with the content of the text.

He identifies “building up” or edification as the major theme of the letter. This expresses itself primarily in relationships. Paul rejects any view that the local church in Corinth may view itself as self-sufficient or autonomous. The same applies to any group within the church.

1 Corinthians deals with numerous moral issues. Contrary to many superficial impressions of his thought, Paul often readily acknowledges moral grey areas and complexities, in which differing circumstances may contribute to differing evaluations. At other times he believes clear-cut moral judgements apply. In the chapter on marriage, singleness and those who have been widowed (7:1–40) Thiselton states that Paul’s views have been widely misunderstood over the centuries. A major cause has been the general failure to recognise until recent times that 7:1b, “It is a good thing for a man not to have physical intimacy with a woman,” does not stem from Paul but refers to a quotation used by some in Corinth. Paul utterly rejects as unchristian views that disdained the body as a domain of no consequence or disdained it as unworthy of concern for ‘spiritual’ people. Paul formulated a positive and sensitive Christian view of marriage. His clear concern for mutuality, reciprocity, and most especially the presupposition that sexual intimacy provides mutual pleasure remains far ahead of its times. Paul does not place celibacy above marriage; he honours both.

The analysis of Paul’s argument with regard to the resurrection is as clear, careful, logical and coherent as he claims the original to be. To use this commentary in a study of First Corinthians would be a marvellous way of opening up Pauline theology and practice. Thiselton is not only a scholar of great learning. This is a work of wisdom and understanding which I cannot recommend too highly.

Review by
Dr John W. Wilson
Anglican Diocese of Melbourne