Monday, April 11, 2011

1 Corinthians Pillar Commentary: An Interview with Roy Ciampa

With commentaries being written at an astonishing rate, count me as one who looks forward to many of the forthcoming contributions. I am not one to bemoan the current state of affairs when it comes to this phenomenon, because I think that the biblical text offers many interpretive possibilities and angles with which to come at the text.

Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner's contribution to the Pillar series on 1 Corinthians is one such contribution. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Roy Ciampa several questions which I hope to post over the next couple of weeks or so. Here is part I of this interview.

1) It is fairly unusual to see a commentary co-written. Your 1 Corinthians contribution is co-written with Brian Rosner. Can you explain how this process began, and how you divided up the research and writing responsibilities?

Brian was originally invited to write the commentary but was finding himself too busy to try and get it done by himself. He had been my doctoral advisor and we had become very good friends and shared similar perspectives on Paul and Pauline exegesis. He got permission to invite me to serve as co-author with him and I was only too happy for the opportunity to work with him on it.

We found our collaboration to be a wonderful experience and now wonder why it doesn't happen more often! 1 Corinthians itself is part of a dialogue between Paul and the Corinthians and our writing of the commentary also grew out of our constant dialogue. While all commentary writers dialogue with what other authors have written, other voices don't get to respond to their arguments until the commentary is published. In our case we were able to dialogue not only with the literature, but with a live co-author that could help sharpen the argument before it was published. We are convinced the collaboration led to a better commentary. Most of we regard of our best insights were sharpened in the conversation.

We had some extended times together to talk through our understanding of the letter as a whole and key issues within it. We came up with an original understanding of the structure and argument of the letter and co-authored an article in the journal New Testament Studies defending what would appear in longer form as the structure for this commentary. We also co-authored the contribution on 1 Corinthians in the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Baker), giving us the opportunity to work through that aspect of the letter together, as a foundation for the fuller treatment in this commentary.

We also went over each other’s work as it was being prepared, giving feedback, suggestions of other sources, arguments or ideas, etc. Whenever one of us completed the first draft of a chapter of the commentary we sent it to the other, who then read it and suggested changes (and caught mistakes). Sometimes we went back and forth several times on a passage or chapter before we were done. Email and Skype make this type of close and constant collaboration between people living on different continents possible in a way that earlier generations couldn’t have imagined! Both of our fingerprints are all over every part of the commentary and we made sure we were both very happy with our material before we felt ready to send it to Don Carson and Eerdmans.

2. In this commentary, your approach is to read 1 Corinthians in a biblical/Jewish manner. Could you first, discuss what makes this unique, and second, how does this differ from traditional approaches to 1 Corinthians?

Previous commentaries on 1 Corinthians have tended to pay close attention to the Greco-Roman backgrounds informing the Corinthian situation (which we also do), but tended to neglect the extent to which Paul’s own biblical and Jewish theological framework governed his response to the problems in Corinth. Our commentary is unique in recognizing the extent, for instance, that the letter builds on biblical and Jewish concerns about sexual immorality and idolatry in a situation where Greco-Roman culture is influencing the worshiping community in dangerous ways.

3. This question probably has some overlap with the one prior, but what issues and vices does Paul confront within the church at Corinth?

The key vices are sexual immorality, idolatry and greed. These are the key vices for which Gentiles were notorious in Jewish and early Christian thinking.

4. Could you speak to the role the ‘cross’ plays in 1 Cor 1-4?

Paul’s apocalyptic theology consists of five elements, so critical to his ethics, has the cross at its center. It consists of five elements, all of which are evident in 1 Corinthians 1-4 with reference to the cross: (1) God’s conflict with enslaving powers, (2) involves a decisive/invasive action in Christ, (3) which issues forth in a judgment that is (4) final and (5) cosmic/universal in scope. According to 1 Corinthians 1-4, the cross signals the end of the world’s puny power, arrogant boasting, fancy talk, shallow wisdom, and so on. The following chapters announce the beginning of a new world marked by sexual purity, mutual love, reconciliation, self-restraint, unity and the like.


danny said...

Good stuff, thanks for posting this, Matthew. Are there more parts to this interview?

Matthew D. Montonini said...


I mentioned in the opening paragraph that this was part 1 of the interview, although it would have been helpful if I would have included that in the title of the post!

I hope that this will be either a 3-4 part series all told.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to have more up soon.

danny said...

Geez, my bad. That's what I get for jumping to the questions! Sorry about that. Looking forward to the rest.

Matthew D. Montonini said...

Danny- no worries...I've been there done that! :-)