Dunn on 1 Corinthians
James Dunn’s 1 Corinthians (London: T and T Clark Study Guide, 1995), is an absolutely wonderful little introduction to this letter, and not only to the themes therein, but also to the exegetical approaches and developments of the last century. It is well written, succinct, and demonstrates Dunn’s usual clarity of thought. Apart from the fact that I have myself learnt a good deal from it, I think this would be a good book for first or second year undergraduates who are seeking an example of a work that demonstrates the relevance and value of scholarship for biblical interpretation. As Dunn writes:
‘1 Corinthians has been in effect a testing ground for different hermeneutical techniques and theories. Indeed, one can almost trace the rise (and decline) of such theories by reference to 1 Corinthians and how they have fared in explaining the features of that letter’ (p. 10)
This book is a real treat, and NT lecturers could do worse than to focus on this letter for the sake of their undergrads. They will masterfully be taken through the history of interpretation, and touch upon the impact of F. C. Baur, the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule, the Gnostic and proto-gnostic approaches, various social-scientific and theological understandings, rhetorical readings, and more besides. Each chapter ends with a helpful ‘Further Reading’ list.
Here is the last paragraph of the book. Inspiring and thought provoking - worth a slow read:
‘It also becomes apparent in the way Paul not only used but also elaborated and qualified the authority of Scripture, of the Jesus tradition and even the gospel itself. He was neither simply a creative theologian, “making it up as he went along”; not simply an authoritarian pastor routinely following rules and rubrics. The word for him was not a crystallised deposit, but a living expression of the shared experience of Spirit and the fellowship of commitment. The tradition maintained the continuity with the past of Israel and the past of Jesus. The gospel remained focused on the cross and resurrection of Christ. But it’s expression and teaching and exhortation, rebuke and challenge, spoke to the Corinthians in the midst of the complex demands of their lives and relationships and with an astonishing relevancy and effect. In this aspect also 1 Corinthians can still be a model and resource’ (pp. 110-11)