I am currently reviewing Fitzmyer’s 1 Corinthians commentary (Anchor-Yale 2008 ) and I thought I would offer some thoughts and reflections on this massive work.
In the first place, I was not surprised to find Fitzmyer writing this volume as he did fine work on Romans in the series. However, I was also aware that he steered clear of making many ‘theological’ claims. So with 1 Corinthians. It is a ‘commentary’ in the sense that he makes a lot of ‘comments’ on lexical, historical, grammatical, archaeological, and social issues. Once in a while he discusses rhetorical matters in an insightful way. On an even more rare occasion he will tip his hand at what he thinks ‘theologically’.
One would not wish, as I have tried to do (and have failed), to read this commentary cover to cover. You might say, ‘you idiot, who reads a commentary cover to cover?’ Well…I do. Certain commentaries, like Fee’s 1 Corinthians or Hays 1 Corinthians (though tolerably brief) are not burdensome to read. Fitzmyer is exhausting, but he is not exhaustive. He throws in interesting ‘background’ comments on parallels in Stoic thought or the DSS or inscriptions. His knowledge of classical literature and Greek grammar are nearly unmatched. But, when it comes to getting at the heart of what Paul is saying, how, and why….well…I was disappointed with Fitzmyer.
It is also a bit of a pet pieve of mine when options are surveyed and the author does not choose one. Many times, Fitzmyer does say something like ‘option 3 is slightly more likely’, but his cautiousness can be intolerable.
If you spend enough time with Fitzmyer’s commentary, you will eventually get a sense of where he stands on a number of issues in 1 Corinthians.
Thiselton+Fee versus Hays on so-called over-realized eschatology – Fitzmyer does not seem to favor Fee/Thiselton’s view that the Corinthians suffered from a view of spiritual perfection based on an over-realized eschatology. Fitzmyer is generally happy to see Stoic thought at work or some other philosophically-based explanation.
SOMA as Self (Bultmann) or physical body (Gundry) – this is a debate that is much wider than 1 Corinthians, but there are some key texts here (esp. 1 Corinthians 6). Fitzmyer seems quite convinced by Gundry’s arguments about the focus on the physical body in 1 Corinthians. This has much bearing on 1 Corinthians 6 and 15, but also various other issues in the letter.
Head-Coverings and KEPHALE – Fitzmyer takes a ‘duh’ approach by trying to read it as plainly and literally as possible. He concludes, then, that there is clearly a hierarchy set up here (God – Christ – Man – Woman) and man is ‘head’ over woman, but this does not imply a devaluation of woman. Fitzmyer is not convinced by the ‘source’ theory.
Overall, if I had to choose one commentary for detailed analysis I would not go for Fitzmyer. I might prefer Fee or Thiselton. Ideally, I would have Fee, Thiselton and Hays. But, Fitzmyer’s end-of-section bibliographies are very helpful for research and on crux issues he surveys the various opinions quite well. He is a ‘level-headed’ commentator and therefore he will not steer you into off-the-wall interpretations. But, in a sense, he is not really taking the scenic route either.