Saturday, February 16, 2008

Recommended Commentaries: 2 Corinthians

During my study of Paul's second letter to the Corinthians I have interacted with the following books. The annotated bibliography below is intended to aid those pastors or serious layman who wish to purchase volumes on 2 Corinthians. Hope it helps.



Paul Victor Furnish, II Corinthians - Anchor Bible Commentary (Doubleday, 1984). Along with Paul Barnett's commentary, I found Furnish by far the most thorough and valuable regarding scholarship. His treatment of individual passages represents the best of critical scholarship and I found his translation to be a great aid in my understanding of the text. Furnish is by no means a conservative, nor does he write with the pastor in view, so the evangelical minister will find little homiletical material in these passages. Along with most contemporary scholars, Furnish understands chapters 10-13 to be a separate letter from 1-9. He also argues that 6:14-7:1 are a non-Pauline interpolation. Though I disagree with Furnish on both accounts, for a serious engagement with the text I consider him essential.

Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians - New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1997). Barnett serves as the conservative counterpart to Furnish. He argues for the unity of the letter (that is, chapters 10-13 are part of the original 2 Corinthian document), which does affect one's interpretation of the letter. Barnett is an expert in Greco-Roman history and literature, which shed much light on the individual passages and situation in Corinth. Barnett's love for the book of 2 Corinthians clearly comes through the passages. Having spent almost 30 years studying this letter, the commentary provides the reader with the life-time achievement of a dedicated scholar. His wife jokingly referred his long study project as "your Corinthian woman"! The technical aspects of the commentary are confined to footnotes, which makes this work accessible to English-only readers. Also, his frequent use of sentence diagramming is distinctive and greatly aids in understanding the logical flow of a passage.

Ralph Martin, 2 Corinthians - Word Biblical Commentary (Word Publishing, 1986). In the traditional format of the Word series, Martin begins each section with a new translation with a footnoted discussion of important textual issues. Next is a section that analyzes the form, structure, and setting of the passage, followed by a section of detailed commentary. The last section (Explanation) is a summary of the major themes of the passage. Though a conservative scholar, Martin decides against the unity of the letter and argues that 10-13 was written shortly after Paul wrote 1-9. This does impact his interpretation of the letter. It does provide some pastoral benefit and for this reason will aid any pastor who works thoroughly with this work. On the whole, however, I prefer Barnett over Martin.

David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians - The New American Commentary (Broadman Press, 1999). I found Garland's work to be warmly pastoral and a treasure-chest of fine homiletical nuggets. He maintains the unity of all 13 chapters and his outlook is conservative and evangelical. While remaining pastoral, Garland offers his reader excellent scholarship. While not technical nearly to the degree of a Thrall or Furnish, Garland 500-plus page work provides the reader with the insights of a fine exegetical mind. D.A. Carson recommends this work highly (second only to C.K. Barrett's volume). The Greek is limited to the footnotes making this accessible to the average pastor.

Scot Hafemann, 2 Corinthians - The NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 2000).
Perhaps the most exciting insights from 2 Corinthians come from the pen of Scot Hafemann. Worth consulting are his earlier works on 2 Corinthians, including Suffering and Ministry in the Spirit, which is an exegetical study of 2 Corinthians 2:14-3:3, and Paul, Moses, and the History of Israel: The Letter/Spirit Contrast and the Argument from Scripture in 2 Corinthians 3. Hafemann captures the flow and thought of the letter better than any other commentator that I consulted. I would have paid the price of the book just for his outline of the letter! Seeing 2 Corinthians as a unified work, the author ties in the themes of suffering, weakness, separation, holiness, God-centeredness, et al with skill and resolve. One brief aside: the sub-quality glued binding of these Zondervan commentaries is simply inexcusable. It is impossible to lay the book flat when studying, making it awkward to wield. All in all, a must-have volume for the evangelical pastor.

Charles Hodge, I & II Corinthians - The Geneva Series of Commentaries (Banner of Truth, 1988 reprint). A valuable book that I consulted frequently. This series was not originally conceived to be technical, but rather pastoral and accessible even to the serious layman. The reader will find no detailed discussion of the more technical aspects of the text nor protracted discussion of the unity of the letter or the identity of Paul's opponents. Instead the reader will become soaked in the theology and mindset of traditional Reformed exegesis. Hodge has captured the essence of Paul better than most modern commentators.


Linda Belleville, 2 Corinthians - IVP New Testament Commentary Series (IVP, 1996). The IVP series is similar in vein to the Pillar Commentary series and the New American Commentary series. Aid at the pastor and layman, it avoids overly-technical jargon. Belleville favors the unity of the letter, but seems open to other possibilities.

Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians - Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Eerdmans, 1987).
As with the entire series, this work is a brief, verse-by-verse commentary. A little over 200 (small) pages long, Kruse' volume intentionally lacks the technical scholarship of larger commentaries. But by forgoing lengthy discussions this little work allows the reader to gain a running understanding of Paul's second Corinthian letter.

Philip E. Hughes, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians - New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1962).
This work was replaced by Paul Barnett's commentary in the NICNT series, but still holds it value. As I preached only a 1-sermon overview of 2 Corinthians, I have not had the opportunity to study through the book in great detail. When that day comes, Lord willing, I plan on consulting Hughes heavily. Now out of print.

Jan Lambrecht, Second Corinthians - Sacra Pagina (Liturgical Press, 1999).
A valuable contribution from a Roman Catholic perspective.

Ernest Best, Second Corinthians - Interpretation Series (John Knox, 1987). A fine scholar who wrote a commentary far too short in length. Best seems to accept that 6:14-7:1 is a interpolation and therefore treats its interpretation separate from the passages that surround it.


Margaret Thrall, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians - International Critical Commentary, volume 1 and volume 2. I briefly used volume 1 a few years back while still in Seminary. It is by far the most comprehensive and technical commentary available in English. It is written for the specialist scholar in mind, making it virtually useless for the pastor. The strength of this work lies in her detailed description of the various possibilities of interpretation for a given passage; the weakness of the work is her failure to spend as much time developing or defending her own position.

C.K. Barrett, A Commentary of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Harper's New Testament Commentaries). I have not personally used this work, but it is highly recommended by D.A. Carson.

Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians - New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 2005). This work is receiving wonderful reviews and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.


Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, St. Paul's Corinth: Texts and Archaeology
(Liturgical Press, 1983). This one-of-a-kind book brings together all the major references to Corinth from Greek and Latin authors in the 1st century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D. Murphy-O'Connor provides helpful commentary on each quotation. The latter third of this work focuses chiefly on archaeological issues. Some of the information contained here can be found in some of the more thorough commentaries. However, the vast majority has rarely (if ever) been referenced and the reader will find a strong vein of gold in this historical mine. This is perhaps the most important background work on Corinth I have ever read.

Bruce W. Winter, After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change (Eerdmans, 2001). Winter provides the reader with a fascinating look into the social environment of the city of Corinth during and after Paul's first missionary visit to that region. Surveying the primary literary sources, Winter offers penetrating analysis into the situations to which Paul was writing. Whether it is a discussion of the role of Isthmian Games, the severe grain shortages, the sexual practices of the elite, the role of patrons, or the imperial cult, Winter brings Paul's first letter to the Corinthians alive. While I did not follow many of his interpretations (some seem very strained), I often found his insights delightful and very helpful for better understanding Paul's correspondence.

D.A. Carson, A Model of Christian Maturity: An Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10-13. Basing his insights on 2 Corinthians 10--13, Carson demonstrates that in a culture of exalted self-confidence, even the church can misunderstand the most important sign of true spiritual growth---humility. Explaining that Paul confronted the same problem in early congregations, he shows how believers today can grow spiritually in everyday life and adversity.

Sze-kar Wan, Power in Weakness: The Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians - The New Testament in Context (Continuum, 2000). Wan stresses that authentic Christian ministry is characterized by weakness and suffering, specifically the weakness and paradigmatic sufferings endured by the crucified Jesus.

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