Introduction. Commentaries on Corinthians are necessarily different than Romans commentaries because the letters to the Corinthians deal with specific social and ethical problems in Paul’s churches. Because of this there is less rumination on theological issues than the social background which resulted in problems reflected in the letters. In order to really get at the heart of these letters, there is a need to understand the problems of Christianity in a Greco-Roman context. For this reason, I favor commentaries on Corinthians which attempt to explain the cultural and social factors behind the ethical and moral problems in the books.
Another complication for studying the Corinthian letters is the relationship of Acts to the letters, as well as the implication of at least four letters from Paul and several visits. Chronological issues can be distracting (and to some readers, superfluous), but it is important that a commentary sort out those problems so that the text can be read properly.
Anthony C. Thiselton, 1 Corinthians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000). Like most of the NIGTC series, Thiselton’s commentary is magisterial. At over 1400 pages, the commentary contains highly detailed exegesis and theological interest. Thiselton also includes what he calls a “posthistory reception” of the text (Wirkungsgeschichte). Here he draws on the apostolic fathers, patristic, medieval, Reformation, and modern eras and briefly summarizes how each age has read the text of 1 Corinthians. These are interesting, although they go beyond what is typically included in a commentary (although Bruner does this in his Matthew and John commentaries). Eerdmans did publish another version of this commentary, A Shorter Exegetical and Pastoral Commentary. For most pastors, the shorter commentary will be sufficient.
Gordon Fee, 1 Corinthians (NICNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996). Fee’s commentary replaced the NICNT volume on 1 Corinthians by F. W. Grosheide (1953). If I recall correctly, this was the first of the NICNT replacements, and is a considerable “upgrade” to the older commentary; mine is unfortunately in the older format (short and fat), making it very difficult to read! Fee’s commentary is a good example of why long series update their volumes from time to time. Grosheide was a fine commentary, but much has been said on 1 Corinthians since then, especially with respect to the impact of cultural and sociological studies. The text of the commentary is focused on the English text, but the footnotes contain the details of Fee’s Greek exegesis for those interested. There are some oddities in Fee’s observations, especially his contention that the difficult command in 1 Cor 14:34-35 is an interpolation into the text.
David Garland, 1 Corinthians (BENTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2005). Garland’s commentary begins by setting the letter in the context of Roman Corinth. This is a brief but very readable introduction to the social / cultural issues lurking in the background of the letters. The format of the commentary follows the pattern of others in the series, Greek is include in the commentary but always transliterated, textual notes are placed the “additional notes.” Garland’s commentary seems more in tune with the Hebrew Bible and other Second Temple Period literature than Greek and Roman sources, providing a helpful correction to other commentaries in this list.
Ben Witherington, III, Conflict and Community in Corinth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1995). Like Witherington’s other commentaries in this Socio-Rhetorical series, there is a wealth of background material here which will enhance one’s reading of 1 and 2 Corinthians. In this series I particularly appreciate the excursuses, labeled “A Closer Look At.” His five pages on glossolia in Corinth are excellent, likewise his section on Rules for Meals. The introduction to the books isone of the best I have read. Since these books are letters, Witherington attempts to develop Paul’s rhetoric, employing technical language of the Greco-Roman orator. This is not overly burdensome but may confuse readers not familiar with terms like Probatio.
Bruce Winter, After Paul Left Corinth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001). This is not exactly a commentary, but it is one of the most helpful books I have ever read on the social and political situation of Corinth in the middle of the first century. Winter is a historian who asks the simple question, what happened in the church at Corinth after Paul’s 18 months there? His answer is that the members of the church were swayed by the social and ethical world of Roman Corinth, as well as enormous political pressures on members of the congregation to participate in civic duties. There is a wealth of background material in this book which everyone trying to deal with the problems of the Corinthian church must take into account.
Conclusion. Those are my five, and I know I have left some important ones out. Let me know 1 Corinthians commentaries you have used, what else is helpful for studying these important books?
Index for the Top Five Commentary Series
Matthew Mark Luke John Acts
Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians
1-2 Thessalonians Pastoral Epistles Philemon
Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter & Jude
Letters of John Revelation