Copenhaver, Adam and Jeffrey D. Arthurs. Colossians, Philemon. Kerux Commentaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2021. 281 pp. Hb. $29.99 Link to Kregel Ministry
Adam Copenhaver (PhD, University of Aberdeen) pastors Mabton Grace Brethren Church in Mabton, Washington, and teaches biblical studies courses for the Ezra Bible Institute. Reconstructing the Historical Background of Paul’s Rhetoric in the Letter to the Colossians (LNTS 585; Bloomsbury, 2018) and Translating Colossians Clause-by-Clause: An Exegetical Guide (2016). Jeffery Arthurs (PhD, Purdue University) is Robinson Chair of Preaching and Communication and Dean at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and published Preaching with Variety (Kregel 2007) and Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture (Kregel 2012). He contributed the preaching section to the Kerux commentary on Ephesians (Kregel 2021, reviewed here).
The introduction covers both books. Colossians and Philemon were both written by Paul during an Ephesian imprisonment A. D. 52-55. They present the usual arguments for and against the traditional authorship of the letters and offer answers to objections. They argue Paul wrote the letters from an otherwise unknown imprisonment in Ephesus, although this has become a more common view. This solves problems of Onesimus’s escape: a one-hundred-mile trip to Ephesus is more reasonable for an escaped slave than a long journey to Rome. As Copenhaver says, the main problem with this view is the stubborn fact that no direct evidence exists for Paul being in prison in Ephesus (38). The introduction includes a brief comment on the origin of the Colossian church, the history, and geography of Colossae. There is also a brief note on slavery in the Roman world, which could be expanded given the context of Philemon.
As is necessary in most commentaries on Philemon, Copenhaver offers a brief reconstruction of the situation behind the letter. Onesimus encountered Paul in prison in Ephesus and was converted to Christ. Paul then found him useful in his ministry. Paul sent Onesimus back to his master with the letter to be read at a church meeting in Philemon’s home. Near the end of the volume is a long sidebar, an “epilogue” to the book of Philemon connecting Onesimus to the tradition that he became the bishop of Ephesus.
Colossians therefore offers a broader context for Paul’s appeal to Philemon. Colossians establishes Paul’s relationship to the church since he did not establish the church. He feels an apostolic responsibility towards those believers and offers some theological correction and pastoral encouragement. Copenhaver points out several exhortations in Colossians which set up Paul’s appeal in Philemon. For example, put aside anger and forgive one another (3:8; 13-15). “Surely the entire church had eyes on [Onesimus] and Philemon when they heard these instructions” (44). In fact, the theme of reconciliation is present in both letters. Paul establishes this theme early in Colossians: Christ has reconciled all of creation to God through the cross (1:20-22). Paul tells the church to do all things that bring about reconciliation one with another (3:8), and be bound by love (3:14)
The commentary divides Colossians into thirteen preaching units and three for Philemon. As with other volumes in the Kerux series, each preaching unit begins with literary and structural themes (an expanded outline) followed by exegesis of the unit. Greek appears without transliteration, although syntactical details in the main text are rare. The exegetical section includes two types of sidebars. First, word studies dig deeper into lexical data. Second, a translation analysis usually examines a difficult element of Greek syntax. These are rare, however, and some of this kind of information appears in the commentary’s body.
Following the exegesis is a short section entitled Theological Focus. This sums up the key themes of the unit and serves as a transition to the Preaching and Teaching strategies. Arthurs provides a Haddon Robinson style preaching idea for each unit and then makes a series of contemporary connections (What does it mean? Is it true? Now what?)
As with other commentaries in this series, there are sidebars covering theology, culture, and application. For example, there are several sidebars on slavery in Colossians 3:22-4:1—Aristotle’s definition of a slave, slaves and sincerity (citing Columella), do slaves serve two masters?, slaves and inheritance. Finally, Arthurs offers a few paragraphs in creativity in presentation. These include basic illustrations or activities to enhance a sermon or Bible lesson. There are several lists in sidebars in the preaching tips section (for example, “Ten ways parents provoke their children”; “One another commands in the New Testament”). Arthurs includes a wide range of contemporary voices, including John Steinbeck, Martin Luther, F. F. Bruce, Tim Keller and even Jim Gaffigan.
Given the importance of slavery as background for Colossians and Philemon, there is less background material on slavery in the Roman world than expected. Perhaps it is unnecessary to write several hundred pages as in the 588 pages Philemon commentary by Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke (Eerdmans, 2000). But some interaction with John Byron (Recent Research on Paul and Slavery, Sheffield, 2008) or Scott Bartchy.
Conclusion. Copenhaver and Arthurs are successful in their goals. They do indeed provide quality exegesis necessary to preach and teach the text of Colossians and Philemon. The preaching strategies will point pastors to creative ways to present these two books.
NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Other volumes reviewed in this series:
- Creighton Marlowe and Charles H. Savelle, Jr. Psalms, Volume 1: Wisdom Psalms
- Duane Garrett and Calvin Pearson, Jeremiah and Lamentations
- Gregory MaGee and Jeffrey Arthurs, Ephesians
- Thomas Moore and Timothy D. Sprankle, Philippians
- Adam Copenhaver and Jeffrey D. Arthurs, Colossians, Philemon
- Herbert Bateman and Steven Smith, Hebrews