1 Corinthians: Teach the Text Commentary Series
The “Teach the Text Commentary Series is designated to provide a ready reference for teaching the biblical text, giving easy access to information that is needed to communicate a passage effectively” (p. ix). Primarily the aim is to present five main areas of focus: (1) the “Big Idea” drives both the passage and the commentary; (2) “Key Themes” speak to the key ideas presented in the passage; (3) “Understanding the Text” focuses on exegesis of the text and includes several subdivisions, including context, outline, historical and cultural background, interpretive insights, and theology; (4) “Teaching the Text” offers guidance for teaching; and (5) “Illustrating the Text” suggests useful illustrations from a variety of sources (pp. vii–x). The commentary holds strictly to a six-page limit for each unit under consideration. The quality of the commentary is excellent: Paper, photographs, maps, drawings, and illustrations are more than worth the price. Preben Vang (Ph.D., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the author of this volume and is professor of biblical and theological studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida. He is also the pastor of Grace Pointe Church in Lake Worth, Florida. This review will be limited to three select sections to illustrate the usefulness and function of the commentary.
1 Corinthians 1:18–31, Wisdom and Foolishness. The Big Idea is “Christians cannot use the commonly accepted wisdom that guides the surrounding culture as the standard for their thinking and living” (p. 28). “Wisdom” in the ancient world was not an abstract idea but “a way of living based on a given understanding of life’s purpose and of what actions reasonably would accomplish such purpose” (ibid.). Paul rejected human wisdom as a way of life for believers in Corinth, especially behavior that was “a direct attack on the gospel itself” (ibid.). He offered divine wisdom based on God’s grace and word as the alternative to a lifestyle based on human wisdom. The Key Themes are (1) “Human wisdom is foolishness”; (2) “God’s ‘foolishness’ is wisdom”; (3) “The process of God’s wisdom is to transform”; and (4) “Christ alone brings God’s wisdom” (p. 29). Theological Insights include “Worldly wisdom is usually oriented practically toward giving advice on how to do well (or gain prominence) in a certain culture. God’s wisdom . . . focuses on his purposes for his creation” (ibid.). Vang suggests three possibilities under the heading Teaching the Text: (1) “Christian thinking must be rooted in the cross,” not self-help or human steps to success; (2) “Wisdom and foolishness” are seemingly contradictory concepts, yet compatible with God’s wisdom; and (3) “Trusting in self-effort leads to pride and gives opportunity to boast” (pp. 31–33). Two suggestions are given for Illustrating the Text: (1) God’s wisdom and human wisdom are profoundly different and must not be confused,” drawn from a personal testimony; and (2) “The nature of the parrot and the eagle,” from Come before Winter and Share My Hope, by Chuck Swindoll.
1 Corinthians 7:12–16, Marriage between Christians and Unbelievers. The Big Idea is “Marriage is ordained by God. Christians who are married should not seek divorce. When someone becomes a Christian after marriage, Christ’s presence will work positively in the marriage in favor of the unbelieving spouse and the children. The believer, therefore, should not seek divorce for spiritual reasons” (p. 102). Paul had just briefly discussed marriage and singleness among believers. Here he turned his attention to the question of divorce. The Key Themes in this discussion are (1) “Should a Christian divorce a non-Christian spouse?” (2) “Should a Christian marry a non-Christian?” and (3) “What is the spiritual status of young children when only one spouse is a Christian?” (p. 103). Theological Insights state that “the relational character of marriage reflects God, whose triune character makes him inherently relational” (ibid.). There are no “spiritual reasons” to break the marriage bond. Vang suggests four possibilities for Teaching the Text: (1) Paul “aims to strongly urge the believer to recognize the power that Christ can have in a marriage and home when the Christ follower remains a strong witness to Christ’s grace”; (2) What about remarriage if “the unbeliever has ‘forced’ the divorce”? (3) “Paul’s teaching on the blessing and spiritual covering a Christian brings to the home”; and (4) What about when a Christian “may need to be rescued from an intolerable situation in a mixed home”? (pp. 105–6). Vang offers brief but valuable answers to these questions and a discussion of Paul’s attitude toward such situations. Illustrating the Text provides three possibilities: (1) “A believer whose conversion creates a mixed-faith marriage should trust that Christ can bring conversion to the whole household.” Here Vang offers personal experiences in his ministry. (2) “A believer in a mixed-faith marriage or home has an enormous privilege to evangelize humbly and authentically every day.” Vang gives a visual and a quote from Erma Bombeck in support of this point. (3) “God’s teachings about divorce and remarriage balance hard words with mercy; ours should too” (pp. 106–7).
1 Corinthians 15:35–58, Resurrection and Transformation (Parts 1 & 2) offer these Big Ideas: (1) “Death does not have the power to hold believers in the grave. God will raise them from the dead with a new body restored and fitted for a new reality in God’s eternal kingdom” (1 Cor. 15:35–49; p. 212). (2) “The transformation of believers at the time of resurrection will be swift and comprehensive. The believers’ participation in Christ’s victory over evil and death invigorates their discipleship in the present” (1 Cor. 15:50–58; p. 218). The Key Themes are (1) “Resurrection brings radical change but does not eliminate continuity with the present”; (2) “Resurrection does not align with cultural conceptions but proclaims a word of redemption”; (p. 213); (3) “Resurrection comes at God’s appointed time but has already removed the sting of death”; and (4) “Resurrection’s promise brings motivation to face present challenges” (p. 219). The Corinthian church had questions about the resurrection that were vital to their spiritual growth. There should be, according to Paul, no confusion or misunderstanding. The Theological Insights are (1) “Since the fall placed creation in the intolerable situation of perishable mortality,” therefore, (2) “all of creation must be transformed to be fit for the full presence of God” (p. 216). The promise of the resurrection is a promise of God’s creation restored back to him. “Christian discipleship is not empowered by a new set of rules to follow or commandments to obey. Rather, the believer’s continuous motivation to imitate Christ is his or her ongoing participation in Christ’s victory over evil. Resurrection guarantees that this victory will be ultimate” (p. 221). Teaching the Text provides the following suggestions: (1) Paul’s teaching that the “resurrection does not bring an end to what God is doing in the present but brings it to its fulfillment.” (2) “Death is the enemy! Christian hope speaks to redemption and re-creation of God’s world and God’s people, not to an escape from present realities. The promise of resurrection does not disconnect the coming age from the present” (p. 216). (3) “Paul’s teaching on resurrection connects directly to his already/ not-fully description of Christian experience. Resurrection will bring to fullness what Christ followers now experience in part” (p. 221). An informative cut-out is offered here on steadfastness (ibid.). (4) The “strongest motivation” for Christian ethics is found in the resurrection. “Contrary to those who might consider eternal life a final ‘reward’ for remaining faithful, Paul speaks of resurrection as the motivator for faithfulness in Christ” with eternal rewards in mind (p. 222). Illustrating the Text offers four possibilities: (1) “Resurrection does not destroy the body but rather transforms and quickens it”; (2) “Death is the enemy of God’s purposes for us and must be killed by Jesus’s resurrection” (p. 217); (3) “Resurrection is an ‘already, but not fully’ reality of which the Spirit gives us a pledge and foretaste”; and (4) “Resurrection is the everyday substance of the Christian life, both now and forever” (p. 223). Obviously, the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the believer are primary to this section.
Many other sections are of interest, for instance: Meat Sacrificed to Idols, 1 Corinthians 8:1–13; Worship in Proper Attire, 1 Corinthians 11:2–16; Many Parts, One Body, 1 Corinthians 12:12–30, and more. The commentary fulfills its objectives well. If the stated objectives are remembered and if readers are in a position of communicating the Scripture, they will not be disappointed with the information and guidance given. This series is extremely well suited for the pastor, teacher, and communicator in both church and academic venues. Sermon and teaching ideas flow out of the suggestions and will certainly find ample soil in the heart of the communicator/reader.