donderdag 21 februari 2013

Review of: Victor Paul Furnish, The Theology of the First Letter to the Corinthians (NTT), Cambridge University Press, 1999; in: Theology Today

Victor Paul Furnish, The Theology of the First Letter to the Corinthians (NTT), Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Review in: Theology Today 2000 57: 402
Review door: Charles B. Cousar
Gevonden op:

The Theology of the First Letter to the Corinthians
By Victor Paul Furnish
Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999.
167 pp. $49.95.

Of his generation Victor Furnish has come to be recognized as one of the most respected interpreters of the Pauline letters to Corinth. In addition to his many articles on the correspondence, he has written the magisterial commentary on 2 Corinthians in the Anchor Bible. Now he has added to the list with this fine study of the theology of 1 Corinthians in the Cambridge series “New Testament Theology.”

Furnish begins with a sketch of Paul’s relationship to the Christians at Corinth and a brief statement of the aims and structure of the letter. His conclusions follow those taken in his commentary. He then basically walks the reader through the letter and comments on its theology under four major categories: knowing God and belonging to Christ (1 Cor 14), belonging to Christ in an unbelieving society (1 Cor 5: 1-1 1 : l), belonging to Christ in a believing community (1 Cor 11:2-14:40), and hoping in God, the “all in all” (1 Cor 15). A concluding chapter raises the issue of the significance of 1 Corinthians for Christian thought, with a final page or two on its relevancy to the church today.

The advantage of Furnish’s method is a neat reading of the letter, one in which theology is highlighted above a mere survey of the problems facing the church. The reader is able to appreciate the fact that Paul in addressing the many pastoral and moral issues troubling the Corinthians does so by writing about the cross, or the nature of the eucharist, or the resurrection. One good example occurs in the warnings against porneia in 6:12-20. Furnish calls attention to the significance of the “body” as much more than the physical body that one has. It becomes the place “where the claim of the resurrected-crucified Lord is received and where his lordship is to be manifest.

Furnish isolates three “authentically theological discourses” in the letter (1:18-2:16; 12:12-13:13; 15:l-58) and in their place he gives special attention to each. He contends that they each reflect the basic soteriological, christological, eschatological, and ecclesiological thrusts of the letter. And yet in many ways the strongest chapter of Furnish’s book deals with the portion of 1 Corinthians that does not contain one of these theological discourses-5: 1-1 1 : 1. Seeing Paul at work as a pastor-theologian, drawing on the gospel in dealing with issues on living in a pagan environment but without long reflective sections, is remarkably instructive and provides a model for contemporary pastor-theologians.

Though Furnish tends to be very descriptive and not to say much about the contemporary church and what a modern reader might find theologically instructive in 1 Corinthians, he lays the groundwork time and again for such a possibility. In facing the problems of living in an unbelieving society, Paul appears preoccupied with drawing boundaries between the church and its social environment (for example, incidents of incest and taking one another to court). At times, believers even are beginning to resemble unbelievers in Corinth. And yet, as Furnish makes clear, the identity of the Christian community is given in and with the gospel: “Belonging to Christ is not mainly about drawing boundaries and keeping them inviolate, but about holding fast to the gospel (10:12; 15:l-2).” One cannot help but discover here a word for the mainline North American church and its struggle to find its identity in a secular society.

This is a thoughtful, carefully written book. I plan to have it on my reading list for next semester’s course on Paul.

Columbia Theological Seminary
Decatur. GA

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