donderdag 21 februari 2013

Review of: Linda McKinnish Bridges, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (SHBC), Smyth & Helwys, 2008; in: Interpretation

Linda McKinnish Bridges, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (SHBC), Smyth & Helwys, 2008.

Review in: Interpretation 2010 64: 90
Review door: Jeffrey A.D. Weima
Gevonden op:

1 & 2 Thessalonians
by Linda McKinnish Bridges
Smyth & Helwys, Macon, Ga., 2008.
293 pp. $45.00 (cloth). ISBN 978-1-57312-083-8.

BIBLICAL SCHOLARSHIP OVER the past twenty years has undergone a significant attitude shift with regard to presenting its findings in a more "user-friendly" format. Two decades ago, those few Old and New Testament studies that contained visual images and special-interest boxes ("sidebars") were not considered scholarly enough to be worthy of serious consideration. Not so any more. In recent years, we have seen a growing wave of published biblical scholarship specifically designed to bridge the gap between the insights of academicians and the demands of theological students and preachers.

The new commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians by Linda McKinnish Bridges illustrates this shift. Her volume is part of an ambitious series, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary, that covers both Old and New Testaments and whose stated goal is "to make available serious, credible biblical scholarship in an accessible and less intimidating format" (p. xv). A multimedia format is employed under the conviction that "a visual generation of believers deserves a commentary series that contains not only the all-important textual commentary on Scripture, but images, photographs, maps, works of fine art, and drawings that bring the text to light" (p. xv). Like the others in the series, this volume treats each major section of the biblical text in two main sections: Commentary and Connections. The first deals with matters typically found in an exegetical commentary: explanations of the Greek text, historical context and literary forms, as well as theological issues that the text raises. The Connections section deals with the application of the text, providing the pastor, teacher, and lay reader with specific ways in which these two ancient letters remain relevant for the church today.

Sidebars are located liberally throughout both sections. Each of these special-interest boxes has not only a descriptive heading but also an icon intended to provide a visual clue to the type of material found within. These sidebars are classified into four different types. The first, symbolized with an icon of the Greek letters, Alpha and Omega, deals with issues pertaining to the Greek text of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. The second, with an icon of an Ionic capital, covers the cultural context: how geographical, historical, political, or social information from the Greco-Roman world sheds light on Paul's words to the Thessalonian church. The third, with its icon of an open book, includes quotations from classic or contemporary literature that illuminate some aspect of the apostle's letter. The fourth, symbolized with a magnifying glass, provides the reader with a list of useful resources for further investigation.

A lot of effort has been put into producing a commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians that meets the series goal of making available serious scholarship in an accessible format, and that effort must be judged a success. This resulting volume presents its material in an inviting, visually rich format that will be appreciated not only by pastors, seminary students, and lay readers but also by academicians. In the midst of a plethora of commentary series currently on the market, the user-friendly format of this volume makes it stand out as an attractive option. Nevertheless, the discerning commentary buyer might worry that such a volume is, as the saying goes, "all style and no substance." We move, therefore, beyond the packaging of this volume to consider more carefully its contents.

The brief introduction (thirteen pages) presents four patterns of thought that have guided McKinnish Bridges' reading of 1 Thessalonians. First, she was surprised to discover from Paul's style of leadership that the apostle is not the arrogant, manipulative, and misogynist person she anticipated but "a softer Paul, accessible to all people, both male and female" (p. 6). Second, with regard to identifying the letter's literary genre, McKinnish Bridges chooses "not to confine Paul's words to any single genre or theory, ancient or modern" (p. 8), and refers to the letter more generally as a letter of friendship by which Paul encourages the Thessalonian church. Third, the congregation of Thessalonica is not based in the home of a wealthy patron but is an artisan church—a community shaped by manual laborers who meet in a workshop or tenement house. Fourth, the original members of thi^artisan community were primarily male and the resulting androcentric perspective encoded in the letter has implications for its interpretation: "If a feminine perspective is absent, either by force or ignorance, then the interpreter is faced with the challenge of creating new worlds of meaning that will be more inclusive and available to all of the readers. That is the purpose of this commentary" (p. 12).

The exegesis is competent and typically follows the positions of mainline Thessalonian scholarship. Objections could be raised about any commentary; space constraints allow me to raise just three. First, McKinnish Bridges follows the majority of contemporary scholars in rejecting the older view that sees an apologetic concern at work in the letter. Yet she misrepresents the older view, claiming that it holds that Paul was seeking "to defend his role as leader, a role that was being challenged by opponents in the congregation in Thessaloniki" (p. 19). This is incorrect, as defenders of the older view claim that Paul's opponents are outside the church (2:14, "fellow citizens") and that the attack on the apostle thus naturally concerned not his qualifications as leader (as in Galatians), but his integrity and moral character. Second, on the heavily debated textual question of whether Paul described himself and his coworkers as "gentle" (epiot) or "infants" (nepioi), McKinnish Bridges chooses what she admits on external evidence is the weaker reading, namely, "gentle." She does so on the grounds that this reading eliminates a mixed metaphor created by the image of a nursing mother mentioned later in the same verse. But the problem of the mixed metaphor is greatly minimized if not removed altogether with proper punctuation of the verse, so that the metaphor of infants concludes the point of 2:5-7, while the metaphor of a nursing mother introduces the new point of 2:7b-8 (as correctly punctuated in the TNIV). Third, one of McKinnish Bridges' more novel interpretations is that the word "laborers" in 5:12 ("those who labor among you in the Lord") refers not to spiritual leaders working in the church but simply to "people who produce goods for society" (p. 150). That Paul has in view, however, not regular laborers but spiritual leaders seems clear from the accompanying prepositional phrase that such folks are "in the Lord" and that the rest of the church should "esteem them most highly because of their work."

The Connection section for each major unit of the letter runs on average about two-thirds the length of the Commentary section and thus forms a significant part of the overall volume. McKinnish Bridges draws heavily in this section from her own past experiences and often speaks in the first-person voice, giving a very personal and almost autobiographical quality to this material. She grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist mountain church where end-time discussions played a heavy role, and many of her observations in this section involve reflections on how her past understanding of the Bible has been nuanced or changed by her later academic studies, life experiences, and reflection.

There is a separate and lengthier introduction (twenty pages) to 2 Thessalonians. McKinnish Bridges argues that this letter differs from 1 Thessalonians in its emotional tone, vocabulary, and syntactical structure, and thus was not written by Paul. She spends quite a bit of time discussing pseudepigraphical writing, arguing that "to forge a name on a piece of work did not signal dishonesty; rather, to place a name other than your own on the work was a way of honoring the past, of creating additional authority for the name and readers" (p. 200). Second Thessalonians, she argues, was written by a disciple of Paul to a Thessalonian church that is a little older, bolder, and more organized, but that needed doctrinal correction concerning the end times and admonishment concerning work.

To summarize, McKinnish Bridges has produced a commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians that fulfills well the series goal of providing solid scholarship in a nonthreatening, user-friendly format, and therefore will be especially appealing to those engaged in pastoral ministry. But while all will appreciate this volume's packaging, judgment about its contents will likely be more mixed, depending on whether one shares McKinnish Bridges' specific patterns of thought on how these two letters ought to be read.

Jeffrey A. D. Weima

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