Book Reviews

Colossians (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible)

Christopher R. Seitz Grand Rapids 2014

Although the volumes in the Brazos Theological Commentary series are generally written by theologians, this book is written by a scholar whose primary expertise is Old Testament studies. Christopher R. Seitz is senior research professor of biblical interpretation at Wycliffe College (Toronto). He has written broadly and his extensive knowledge of the Old Testament is used consistently throughout the volume (e.g., pp. 66, 95).

After the usual front matter, Seitz includes an introduction that is relatively long for volumes of this size (pp. 19–56). Although he covers most traditional introductory matters, he does so in a unique manner. Basically, Seitz reads Colossians from a canonical perspective (pp. 50–53). He focuses on issues such as imprisonment, canonical collection, letter writing, and theology. He concludes that Paul wrote the letter from prison in Rome, but a significant reason for this conclusion is the canonical placement of the letter (pp. 30, 45–50, 53, 179–84). There are a number of reasons Paul wrote the letter, including the request of Epaphras and a desire to shepherd, to correct, and to discuss his own understanding of his apostolic office (pp. 31–35). For Seitz, Colossians “brings to a crescendo . . . Paul’s mature theological reflections on his vocation as an apostle, given the context of imprisonment and affliction” (p. 34).

Like Ephesians, Colossians has a broader purpose than the issues facing the local church at Colossae (pp. 35–38). Paul understands the letter as a part of his apostolic ministry (p. 37). Although Paul does not explicitly cite the Old Testament in Colossians, Seitz includes an interesting and nuanced discussion of the influence of the Old Testament on Paul and the letter (pp. 38–45). Within this discussion, Seitz compares the collection of the twelve minor prophets with the thirteen letters attributed to Paul (pp. 39–43). He does not suggest that the former serves as a template for the latter (p. 41), but he sees similarities in a number of areas. For example, both collections are generally arranged from longer to shorter, and chronology is not important for the order (pp. 39–41). Also, Seitz sees theological development exhibited in both (pp. 42–43). Finally, Colossians is influenced significantly by the Old Testament through allusions and echoes (pp. 43–45). Although already considering “Paul” as the author, Seitz includes an interesting discussion of authorship in light of authorship in the Old Testament (pp. 47–50).

Seitz concludes the introduction with an explanation of his canonical and theological approach (pp. 50–53) and specifics about how he intends to cover the book (pp. 53–56). Interestingly, not much time is spent pursuing the so-called “Colossian heresy” in the introduction (see pp. 27, 37); however, specific teaching confronted by Paul is mentioned as necessary in the commentary proper (e.g., pp. 120–24). Although most of Seitz’s conclusions were agreeable, his arguments based on his canonical approach were not always persuasive. It seemed too much attention was paid to canonical order and other concerns not closely tied to history or exegesis. Nevertheless, his canonical and theological approach in many areas made for a fresh and interesting means to discuss this material. This was a nice surprise from such a brief commentary.

Each major section includes the author’s translation (p. 53) and brief comments on each verse. Some passages, such as 1:15–20, include a helpful introduction (pp. 86–91). Seitz maintains that to understand “firstborn” in 1:15, one must understand the meaning of the modifying genitive “of all creation” (p. 95) as well as consider the entire hymn (p. 97). After significant reference to the Old Testament, especially David, Seitz states, “‘Firstborn of creation . . . refers to the status the Son has vis-à-vis God himself” (p. 96). “Firstborn from the dead” (1:18) refers to the resurrection and goes back to the earlier creation idea, but this time it is the new creation that is in view (p. 96).

Concerning other difficult passages, Seitz interprets “completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” as work for the Lord that does not end with Paul but will continue (p. 108). In Colossians 2:18, “worship of angels” is an objective genitive construction referring to the practice of worshiping angels alongside Christ (p. 137). The household code in 3:18–4:1 was not preexistent (p. 170).

Several excursuses provide additional, focused information on certain topics. For example, Seitz discusses the phrase “by the will of God” (1:1) (pp. 63–67) in its theological context, including Paul’s Jewish heritage. Seitz’s emphasis on the background is commendable, and he avoids simplistic explanations of this topic. However, a little more focused discussion on issues that the modern reader faces with reference to this topic would have been appreciated.

The commentary concludes with an appendix, “Paul in His Own Words—A Paraphrase” (pp. 193–203). This is a first-person account of Paul’s own thought and intended to be an introduction in the form of a “cover letter” to Colossians and other letters (pp. 193–94). Here much of Seitz’s approach is concisely summarized.

For those already familiar with Colossians and more technical commentaries, this volume will provide a different approach to Colossians specifically and to Paul generally. Its emphasis on the Old Testament is a welcome contribution to the study of Colossians.

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