On Colossians – Why Another Commentary?

2012 is the year I focus on writing my Colossians commentary (Smyth & Helwys). I have done most of the preliminary research and I have drafted about 30% of the actual chapters. Now, I am beginning a series of blog posts on important issues related to interpreting and applying this Pauline letter. Nothing I write in any of these posts will appear verbatim in the commentary. Consider these posts “extra footage!”

Anyway, in this kick-off post, I wanted to raise the question – does the world need another commentary on Colossians? As I was thinking about whether I should write a commentary on Colossians, the first reaction I had was – could I contribute something that has not already been articulated by Dunn, O’Brien, Barth, Wright, Moo, MacDonald, Martin, Moule, Thompson, Bruce, etc… The brilliant thing about the Smyth & Helwys series is that it is not focused on making a fresh academic contribution to the minute details of historical or linguistic analysis of the text. It is written for students and pastors especially – the goal is a coherent reading of the text that helps such readers make sense of the letter and to find “connections” with life in the modern world. If I felt that I was unsuitable to bring new insights from Greco-Roman backgrounds or discourse analysis, I knew that I could spend time thinking freshly about how to draw out the theology of the text and bring its messages into our time.

In that sense, new commentaries will always be needed, just as new translations will always be needed – perhaps not so many┬ánew commentaries and translations, but we can’t throw out the baby with the bath water!

In particular, I felt that Colossians has suffered neglect, as some still designate it a back-seat role in NT theology because of its dubious authorship (an issue I will take up at another time). Also, so many interpreters have strained to discern Paul’s soteriology or Christology in this letter, both noble pursuits, but little investment has been made in drawing out its ethical orientation. As one of my passions is NT ethics (and the theology of Pauline discipleship), I wish to bring some new insight here.

Another reason I love the Smyth & Helwys series is the investment they make in visuals- whether it is maps, charts, photographs (e.g., of cities or artifacts), or fine art – like paintings of or about the textual issue. Such additional features really enhance the interpretation process in so many wonderful ways. Being on the other side of actually choosing these visuals gives me a whole new appreciation for the work put into the production of these volumes.

A final reason why it is worth having another commentary is simply because it is a blessing to me! I am not talking about money (let’s be realistic, if we broke it down by payment per hour, I would be working for, like, 10 cents an hour!). It is about the spiritual blessing of diving so deep into Scripture and spending hours upon hours both privately as well as in the classroom (of church and university) thinking about how to interpret and apply this text. It is profitable for me, so it profits my teaching ministry and all other projects I work on. Thank you S & H editors for this great blessing!

So, does the world need another commentary? Perhaps “need” is too strong a word, or it needs properly defining. If someone were preaching on Colossians and wanted aid, I would quickly and easily recommend O’Brien, Lincoln, Wright, and Witherington (and perhaps one or two others if the inquirer were not overwhelmed!). I would tell them to consult Calvin and Chrysostom for good non-modern insight. I would tell them, after doing their own initial research, to poke into Garland’s very useful NIVAC text on Colossians. So, there are so many wonderful sources. But….I don’t think we have seen the last important word on Colossians. I am not saying my text will set the Pauline world on fire with delight and controversy and push it to the brink of a new horizon of study and insight. But part of the joy of exegesis is new discovery – Daniel Migliore makes a similar point about doing theology –> it is always questioning and, thus, always discovering.

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