Pheme Perkins' Commentary on 1 Corinthians (Review)

Pheme Perkins' Commentary on 1 Corinthians (Review) May 22, 2012

In recent years we have seen a number of commentaries on 1 Corinthians – Fitmyzer in 2008, Ciampa/Rosner in 2010, and now Pheme Perkins in 2012 (Paideia; Baker). I would say, though, based on the aims of the Paideia series and the relative (short) length of the commentary, it does not make the kind of major contribution to Pauline scholarship that Fitmyzer or Ciampa/Rosner have done. Rather, the Paideia series seeks to “enable students to understand each book of the NT as a literary whole rooted in a particular ancient setting of the NT and related to its context within the NT.”

Perkins interest and expertise is primarily in setting 1 Corinthians within the ancient Greco-Roman world. The introduction bears out this interest. She does dabble in theological discussions, and I did appreciate that she gave attention to the key theological themes of 1 Corinthians including “Turning from Idols to the True God,” “Scripture as the Word of God,” “God’s Plan of Salvation,” “Jesus Tradition in Paul,” “Life in the Spirit,”Christ’s Resurrection and Ours,”A Believing Community.”
When we turn to the commentary itself, there are three main parts to Perkins’ study of each passage. First, she goes over “introductory matters.” Then you will find the “Tracing the Argument” section which goes through the various exegetical issues. Finally, you have a reflection on the “Theological Issues.” Again, given how short the commentary is, you will not find many “new” insights. One of the most useful features, though, is the frequent call-out boxes. For example, on pg 51 she notes that religious associations in the Greco-Roman world did sometimes have rules against dividing into factions: “And to no one of them is it permitted…to organize factions [schismata]” (papyrus London 7.2193 in Arzt-Grabner et al., 2006, 66).
In another call-out box she notes griffiti discovered that shows fans favoring one member of an acting troupe: “Actius star of the stage…Here’s to Actius, come back to your people soon” (see p. 55).
While one of the endorsers, Frank Matera, is right that this commentary is “learned and concise,” I am not sure I would recommend it as a textbook. The strength of her text is focus on the archaeological insights for the study of 1 Corinthians. However, I would combine something like Jerome Murphy O’Connor’s St. Paul’s Corinth, Craig Keener’s 1-2 Corinthians (New Cambridge), and Bruce Winter’s After Paul Left Corinth.
Even though I did not find Perkins’ volume as useful (maybe because I already own a swath of 1 Corinthians commentaries by Thiselton, Fee, Garland, Hays, Fitzmyer, Sampley, Blomberg, Ciampa/Rosner, Witherington), I still have interest in the Paideia series and I think it has a lot of potential. 1 and 2 Peter is coming soon from Duane Watson and Terrance Callan (August 2012) as well as James and Jude (John Painter and David deSilva) just in time for SBL (Nov 2012).
Final thought: Reading Perkins’ commentary reminded me of how segmented NT studies really is. My go-to commentaries are (1) Fee, (2) Thiselton, and (3) Hays. Perkins, though, did not “go-to” these commentaries very much (though she interacted with Fee and Thiselton occasionally). She focused more on Fitzmyer, and the research of Murphy-O’Connor and Margaret Mitchell. I was surprised by how narrow her field of interest was, in terms of secondary research. This encourages me to be broader in my own research for Colossians commentary. So far, I have not given much attention to Lohse, so perhaps I should dip into it a bit more…

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