Teach the Text of 1 Corinthians with Preben Vang (Book Review by Gupta)

Vang TT 1 CorI am excited to following the earliest releases of the new commentary series from Baker called “Teach the Text.” This series focuses on directing pastors and Bible teachers regarding the interpretation, basic message, and potential illustrations for biblical texts. The late Dick France did a fantastic job on Luke. Recently, the volume on 1 Corinthians was released (authored by Preben Vang).

I am not going to go into a detailed discussion (see my discussion of the series here).I will briefly mention that “exegesis” is kept to a minimum, because the purpose is to keep sections succint and focus on (surprise, surprise) teaching the text. So, three key sections are included in each chapter: “theological insights,” “teaching the text,” and “illustrating the text.” Along those lines, there are lots of great photos and images of art for inspiring illustrations. Here are a couple of interesting things I found in Vang’s work

On the ever-controversial “headcovering” passages (ch. 11), Vang does a great job navigating these waters. He takes the view that female headcoverings signaled married status and it was getting confusing in the church (which met in homes) whether or not women had to wear their marital coverings as they did in public. Vang argues that the house-church patroness could be unveiled in her own home and show off her wealth. Her friends (who were probably also wealthy) could remove their veils at church. But what about other women there at church? For Vang, this could easily create social divisions in the church. Not sure if Vang has enough evidence in favor of this view, but this is possible.

I am more impressed with his discussion of “head” imagery in 11:3

God is the head of Christ because Christ bears the mark of exclusive relationship to God. Christ is the head of the Christian man for the same reason, and the husband is likewise for his wife…A women should cover her head; the veil is her sign of exclusive relationship to her husband. Taking off her veil suggests that her relationship to her husband is less than exclusive (148)

This is an angle on this text I have not heard before. Food for thought.

On a later text (1 Cor 15:50-58), Vang writes this in his “Theological Insights”

Christian discipleship is not empowered by a new set of rules to follow or commandments to obey. Rather, the believer’s continuous motivation to imitate Christ is his or her ongoing participation in Christ’s victory over evil. Resurrection guarantees that this victory will be ultimate. (221)

I want to give an important caveat to pastors about using this commentary series. While it is extremely handy (and I look forward to collecting more), consulting these is not meant to replace personal study of the Bible for preaching and teaching. I would suggest (1) personal exegetical study of the text, then (2) consulting helpful reference works (dictionaries, lexicons), then (3) detailed exegetical commentaries (like Fitzmyer, Thiselton, Fee), then (4) a good theological commentary (like Chrysostom, Calvin, Hays), and then (5) Vang for clarification, fresh ideas, and to make sure you got the central theological ideas. Sure, if you are asked to preach tomorrow, you might have to go straight to #4 and #5, but please make personal, careful, deep, close reading of the text your first step (with much prayer).

Back to Vang – the study of 1 Corinthians is an interpretive minefield and I wondered whether Vang could pull it off – and he did! This is a very impressive work that demonstrates careful reasoning at the historical, literary, and theological levels.

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