Book Review: Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians (Second Edition)

Martin, Ralph P. 2 Corinthians. Second Edition. Word Biblical Commentary 40; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2014. 751 pp. Hb; $54.99.   Link to Zondervan Academic

This is the first revised commentary I have used in the Word Biblical Commentary since Zondervan took over the series a few years ago. Martin’s original 2 Corinthians commentary was among the best commentaries on this difficult letter of Paul. Zondervan’s new updated edition of the commentary will remain one of the first off the shelf for me for many years to come.

2 Corinthians Martin

There are a few cosmetic changes that make a great deal of sense. First, the introductory pages now use Arabic numerals rather than Roman numerals. It was always frustrating in the old WBC series to cite pages by a Roman numeral: citing page xxviii looks clumsy. Second, all of the excurses in the commentary are printed on gray pages, making them easy to find. I noticed that some of the original excurses are not identified as such in this new addition. Rather, they are simply “notes” on particular issues. It appears the note is only a few pages, and an excursus is several pages long. It appears the original commentary excurses are now called notes.

One unfortunate change to the series is that Zondervan has printed the hardback edition of this book without a slip jacket. This simple cosmetic change likely saved the publisher money and made the book less expensive to the consumer, but I personally have never liked the look of printed boards on a hardback book. Another change is that the paper is less high-quality than the earlier Word editions. However, these criticisms are simply a reflection of the cost of printing a book today. (I was told by a Zondervan insider that all WBC commentaries will be reprinted this way.)

Martin has revised the text of the commentary to correct what he calls a “few slips,” and to update abbreviations (BDAG for Bauer’s third edition) and to improve the reading of the text. Since it took him 10 years to write the original commentary, Martin explains he is “not inclined to meddle with the text.” As a result, there is not much new in the actual commentary.

Instead of updating the main text of the commentary, Martin includes several new excurses written by colleagues. First, Carl N. Toney contributes a 13-page excursus on the “Composition of Second Corinthians (1985-2007).” Like all sections in the WBC, this begins with a lengthy bibliography, including works written before 1985. He compares several partition theories and discusses where the text breaks in 2:14 through 7:4. He concludes by supporting the view of the commentary, arguing chapters 1-9 were written as a distinct letter prior to chapters 10-13 and that “the reduction of these chapters points to the importance of reading them in their final form” (63).

Toney contributes a second lengthy excursus on “Rhetorical Studies of 2 Corinthians.” Rhetorical studies of Paul’s epistles have multiplied since 1985, so this excursus updates the commentary in this area. Toney begins by providing a brief overview of rhetorical studies in general and offers several comments on the theological value of rhetorical analysis.

A third new excursus in this commentary is on the “Social Setting of 2 Corinthians” by Mark W. Linder. As with rhetorical studies, cross-disciplinary studies using social science have been applied to Paul’s letters with great profit since the original commentary was published. Linder sites, specifically Bruce Winters, After Paul left Corinth, Wayne Meeks, The First Urban Christians, and Gerd Theissen, Social Setting. Perhaps even more influential on Pauline studies is Danker’s 1989 commentary on 2 Corinthians and his work on The Collection.

Martin contributes another excursus on the “Opponents of Paul in 2 Corinthians.” This essay was published in the Earl Ellis Festschrift in 1987. It is reprinted here as an update to the commentary, although it is nearly as old as the original commentary. Martin surveys the common suggestions that Paul’s opponents were “Judaizers” or “Hellenists.”  He points out that Paul is respectful of the “highest apostles” in 11:5, but he “fiercely lambasted” the false apostles as Satan’s agents (113). Paul’s gospel embodies a “theology of the Cross,” while these false apostles preach a “theology of Glory.” Since Paul suffers greatly, is physically weak, and an ineffective miracle worker, his opponents ridicule him and dismiss his Gospel.

The commentary now includes an essay Martin originally published in the Festschrift for G. R. Beasley-Murray, “The Spirit in 2 Corinthians in the light of the ‘Fellowship of the Holy Spirit’: 2 Corinthians 13:14.” Martin updates the original excursus on “Theology and Mission of 2 Corinthians” with an essay originally published in Gospel to the Nations (IVP 2000).

Carl Toney writes an excursus on the resurrection in 2 Corinthians in the context of 2 Corinthians 5. After surveying 1 Cor 15 and 2 Cor 5, Toney summarizes several approaches to the resurrection found in the commentaries. He concludes the two passages discuss the same kind of resurrection, and Paul’s language emphasizes a “physical, somatic resurrection” (254-5). While 1 Cor 15 describes the resurrection as a transformation at the Parousia, 2 Cor 5 discusses the resurrection in the light of present suffering and the possibility of death.

As an introduction to 2 Corinthians 8-9, there is a brief note on the Pauline Collection, which is more or less the same as the original commentary. But the older excursus is supplemented by a short note from D. J. Downs updating the discussion with material from 1985 through 2000. Downs maintains Martin’s view that the Pauline collection was intended to address “a real material need among the Saints in Jerusalem.” But the collection also likely served other needs as well, such as “a tangible expression of the mutual relationship shared by Jews and Gentiles” (424).

Conclusion. I am pleased the venerable Word Biblical Commentary is being updated. Some of the volumes are in need of replacement; most are in need of the sort of updating demonstrated in Martin’s 2 Corinthians. The cosmetic changes are acceptable, especially if these changes keep the cost of printing lower. If you have the original commentary, the added sections make this update worthwhile.


NB: I purchased this book for my personal library. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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