Book Review: Gordon Fee, 1 Corinthians, Revised Edition

Fee, Gordon. 1 Corinthians, Revised Edition. NICNT Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014. 962 pp. Hb; $65.   Link to Eerdmans

Gordon Fee is one of the greatest New Testament scholars of the twentieth century. Fee was the general editor of the NICNT series from 1990 to 2012, when he was replaced by Joel Green. Under Fee’s guidance this venerable series has become one of the premier commentaries series. For example, the commentaries on Romans (Doug Moo), Hebrews (Gareth Lee Cockerill), Matthew (R. T. France), Luke (Joel Green) and James (Scot McKnight) are all among the best commentaries published in the last few years.

Fee, 1 CorThis is one of the few commentaries I have owned in three different editions, four if you include the original New International Commentary on the New Testament volume on 1 Corinthians by F. E. Grosheide (1953). When Fee’s original commentary was published in 1987, the NICNT series was printed in more compact form (8.5×6). For most of the series, this was a handy size, but for Fee’s massive commentary on 1 Corinthians, it was much too thick to be useful. The New International Commentary also had particularly ugly dust jackets, purple in the Old Testament and bright yellow for the New Testament. As replacement volumes appeared, Eerdmans moved to a larger format (6.125 x 9.25) and greatly improved the design of the dust jackets. I bought a copy of the new version from Eerdmans soon after it came out since my older copy was cracking in the center. At that time there was no new text and the type was set exactly like the original volume so references to specific pages would be the same.

What is new in this Revised Edition? The main change in this revised commentary is the use of the NIV 2011. The first edition of the commentary used the original 1978 NIV text, which Fee describes as “more poorly done in this letter than anywhere else in the canon” (xvi). Fee has been a member of the Committee on Bible Translation since 1991 and has been a major participant in the revisions of the NIV during those years. Most casual readers think revisions were made to the NIV only to make it gender inclusive, but that is not the case. There are 82 instances in the Pauline letters where the word “brothers” refers to the whole congregation and is therefore rendered by the NIV 2011 as “brothers and sisters” (twenty-two times in 1 Corinthians). But there is far more going on in the new editions of the NIV and there is no clandestine group of liberal feminists attempting to corrupt evangelicalism from within. Setting aside the gender-inclusive language, there are many places were the NIV 2011 reflects the sense of the Greek text better than the earlier incarnations of the translation.

Fee explains a second motivation for a revised edition of the commentary: in twenty-five years there have been many important studies of 1 Corinthians. This is certainly true, but in practice Fee does not thoroughly revise the commentary with insights from more recent studies. Fee includes an “addendum” of bibliographical material to this introduction to chapters 8-10 (p. 400-1) and on the very difficult problem of veiling women in 11:2-6 (p. 565-7). Both these bibliographies are offered with a short introduction and no additional commentary. Fee chose to not update his commentary on chapters 8-10 despite the growth in secondary literature on these chapters. His reason is his target audience, pastors and students as oppose to the academy. The same is true for chapter 7, where new bibliography is placed in a footnote (p. 296). There are a few other significant revisions primarily in the footnotes, especially reference to BDAG for lexical issues.

One major revision in this edition is on the controversial text in 14:34-35, “On Women Remaining Silent” (780-92). This section appears after verse 40, only a note appears after verse 33 indicating the “spurious passage (vv. 34-35) that made its way into the MS tradition at this point in the majority of surviving witnesses, but after v. 40 in the Italian church. . .” (774, n. 695). Fee made this argument more briefly in the earlier commentary, in the revised commentary he offers for evidence for the exclusion of the verse as well as some interaction with other explanations of the verses. These pages take the form of an excursus; it is set off from the main commentary by lines, the font is smaller, and the footnotes are unique to this section. While Fee states there is a substantial bibliography for these verses (presumably in the last 25 years), his interest only textual-critical and most articles are theological in nature. This is perhaps the case, but there are several important studies since 2000 simply ignored by the excursus. For example, the contribution of Jeffrey Kloha, “A Textual Commentary on Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians” (Ph.D. diss., The University of Leeds, 2006) seems worthy of inclusion here even if the final form of the study has yet to be published. He mentions Payne’s Man and Woman (2009), although he does not do much with Payne’s arguments. Since Fee’s solution to the problem of a very difficult text, namely, it is spurious and non-Pauline, I expected more interaction with alternative views.

Conclusion. In some ways I was disappointed with the commentary since I imagined a “Second Edition” of the commentary which fully interacted with the massive number of commentaries, monographs, and articles on 1 Corinthians. There are a number of new (perhaps faddish) approaches to epistles Fee has no interest in these new approaches at all: there is nothing socio-rhetorical in this commentary! But this is not a problem since Fee is not writing a new commentary, but revising his older work.

Despite the fact this is a revision as opposed to a Second Edition, Fee’s commentary on 1 Corinthians should be among the first consulted by pastors and teachers as they treat this important letter of Paul.

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Gordon Fee, Revelation

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. New Covenant Commentaries. Eugene, Ore.: Cascade, 2011. pp. 332. Pb., $39.00. Link to Wipf & Stock

This commentary is one of the first in a new series published by Cascade Books. At this point only Craig Keener on Romans, Lee Cohick on Ephesians and Michael Bird on Colossians and Philemon have been published, but the rest of the New Testament has been assigned to an international team of scholars. Cascade Books is a division of Wipf & Stock, a company well known for reprinting older books which have gone out of print. Their both and ETS and SBL is usually one of my favorites because of the wide variety of authors and topics they have reprinted. Since 2004 Cascade Books has published a number of important books by major authors, including this new commentary series.

This commentary caused a bit of a stir when it was released because of an interview with Fee in which he described Revelation as grounded in the first century. In the introduction to the commentary, Fee distances himself from popular readings of Revelation like Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth. Fee is of course correct that there is nothing Revelation which predicts Hitler or Mussolini, and much of what passes for “good teaching” on Revelation is quite silly. I do not agree that the only element of the book which is future is chapter 21-22. He is (unfortunately) correct that the some Dispensationalists sensationalize the book in a way which misses the author’s original intent. However, I think that arguing against a Hal Lindsey book printed in 1970 is a straw-man argument since no serious dispensationalist does quite what Lindsey did. I would much rather have him interact with Darrell Bock, Robert Saucey, or Marvin Pate on a futurist reading of Revelation than Lindsey or his descendants.

Fee’s commentary is an exegetical commentary and his goal is to read the text in order to determine the author’s original intent. With this as a goal, he avoids several things which plague commentaries on Revelation. First, there is little comment on the sources for John’s imagery. He does not overly concern himself with possible allusions to the Old Testament or other Second Temple Period literature. According to the index there are only eleven references to the Old Testament apocrypha and pseudepigrapha im the entire commentary. He does point out possible allusions to the Old Testament, but these are fairly light when compared to recent commentaries by Beale and Aune.

Second, Since Fee is interested in exegeting the text, there is less cultural background than most commentaries. But since his thesis is that Revelation is about Christians facing oppression from Rome, some aspects of Roman history must be explained. While treating Revelation 2-3 it is necessary to give a short cultural background for each of the seven cities. These are judicious and not overly detailed. Obviously the topic is worthy of a whole book (Colin Hemer, for example). There are other places in the text I expected more Roman background if the book was to be interpreted as referring entirely to the first century. In chapter 13, I expected some details on Roman economy to support the idea that this mark was an allusion to a first century practice, but that is lacking in the commentary.

Third, he rarely interacts with other scholars. He includes a number of useful commentaries and studies in a selected bibliography, but in the commentary itself there is no ‘compare and contrast” with other commentaries. He simply states what he believes the text is saying and does not try to sort through the dozen or so views on any given image in the book. Despite the sensational video interview which appear when the commentary was released, Fee does not grind against dispensationalist views of Revelation in the commentary. For example, when treating the mark of the beast in Revelation 13, he since states that it is an allusion to Nero Caesar and does not consider any alternative views (p. 187). This is simply the style of the commentary, Fee certainly knows all the other views and has weighed them carefully.

Fourth, the commentary is written for general readers, so there is little interaction with the Greek text of Revelation. The text of the NIV 2011 is used and occasional footnotes comment on text variations or syntax. There is no Greek in the text of the commentary and only rarely in the notes. He does not worry over elements of grammar and syntax nor does he engage in lengthy digressions to unpack individual words. This is again a result of the style chosen for the commentary aimed at a general reader rather than a Greek expert.

Fee’s commentary is useful and can be used by pastor and layman alike, although the specialist will find it lacking in the sorts of details we have come to expect from the mammoth exegetical commentaries of Aune or Beale. Fee simply refuses to draw theological conclusions from his exegesis. There is nothing wring with drawing theology from the text, of course, but that is the business of another sort of book than a commentary. The reader ought to be aware of Fee’s assumptions and bias in the book, but these do not get in the way of a very readble commentary.