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II Corinthians: a Commentary.

II CORINTHIANS: A COMMENTARY. By Frank J. Matera. The New Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003. Pp. xx + 332. $39.95.

Frank Matera offers an interpretation of what is "perhaps the most personal and revealing of Paul's letters" (1). Following the format of The New Testament Library series, M. moves through 2 Corinthians passage by passage, giving his own translation of the text, adding brief explanatory and textual notes, outlining the structure and logic of the passage, and offering detailed commentary.

The introductory chapter is an overview of several critical issues. Most notably, M. makes a strong case for the letter's literary integrity. He maintains that Paul wrote 2 Corinthians to deal with two crises. The first crisis, involving a previous painful visit and an unnamed offender, has already been resolved in Paul's favor. The second crisis, involving intruding apostles who have unsettled the Corinthian community, still demands resolution. According to M., in 2 Corinthians 1-7 Paul attempts to consolidate reconciliation over the painful visit, while in 2 Corinthians 10-13 he tries to tackle the problems wrought by the intruders. In arguing for the integrity of 2 Corinthians, M. avoids the problems raised by partition theories (especially accounting for its present form). He exhibits due restraint in his reconstruction of the events that transpired between 1 and 2 Corinthians. He also rightly emphasizes our inability to identify precisely Paul's opponents and their specific teaching.

Part 1 sets forth Paul's presentation in 2 Corinthians 1-7. Paul's purpose in these chapters is to narrate his version of what has recently happened between him and the Corinthians. This narration (1:15-2:13; 7:5-16) is interrupted, however, by a lengthy excursus (2:14-7:4) that M. calls "the most profound discussion of apostolic ministry found in the New Testament" (65). Paul's rhetorical strategy is to insert an apologia for his manner of exercising this apostolic ministry right at the moment in which he has the Corinthians' full attention. While M. expertly treats Paul's new covenant ministry (2:14-4:6) and role in the ministry of reconciliation (5:11-6:10), his description of the apostle's (passive) endurance of afflictions and suffering (4:7-5:10) fails to convey adequately that Paul's self-emptying mode of living for others "on account of Jesus" (see 4:5) also represents an active choice on his part. Moreover, M.'s interpretation of the function of 6:14-7:1 relies too heavily on Paul's generic description of immoral activity in 12:21. A stronger contextual case can be made for seeing 6:14-7:1 as an exhortation to the community to separate itself from the intruding apostles.

Part 2 treats Paul's appeal to the Corinthians to resume their participation in the collection for the church in Jerusalem. M. argues that Paul builds here upon the reconciliation reported in 7:5-16. M.'s treatment of 2 Corinthians 8-9 is outstanding. In particular, he offers an illuminating discussion on Paul's rich use of the term charis in these chapters. M. appropriately characterizes this section as offering "a theology of grace" (211).

Part 3 deals mostly with Paul's attack on the intruding apostles (2 Cor 10-13). The main points of contention between Paul and the "super apostles" involve financial support and the status of boasting. M.'s analysis of 10:13-16 is especially helpful, as he demonstrates a critical point of Paul's argument, namely, that his coming to Corinth and the subsequent birth of the Church are evidence that he is the divinely appointed father of the community. In his commentary on the "fool's boast" (11:1-12:13), M. acknowledges elements of parody but rightly maintains that Paul's intent here is serious: the apostle insists that God's power comes to perfection in weakness. M.'s caution leaves him, however, when he draws too many specific conclusions from 12:20-21.

Overall, there is much to commend in M.'s commentary. He skillfully lays out the structure and logic of the individual sections, and demonstrates their interconnections. He is sensitive to Paul's rhetorical strategies and techniques, especially the use of "ring patterns." He conscientiously tracks the referents of Paul's use of first person plural pronouns and provides convenient contextual summaries (a service to those who will consult the commentary for specific passages).

My criticisms lie in the area of interpretation. For instance, M. does not capitalize on his insight that "Paul forges a chain of faithfulness" extending from God to Christ, and from Christ to Paul and the Corinthians (55). This is a crucial aspect of the Spirit's "christing" empowerment (1:18-22) and is present in, e.g., 3:1-3 and 4:7-14. And while M. correctly emphasizes Paul's defense of his own integrity and character, he does not give the apostle's strategy of inculcating a particular ethos among the Corinthians (as evidenced by the extensive dokim- terminology) its due. In the end, however, M.'s commentary, like 2 Corinthians itself, will challenge and reward those who seriously engage it.


Weston Jesuit School of Theology
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Author:Stegman, Thomas D.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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