1 Corinthians by Marion L. Soards

1 Corinthians (NIBC Commentary) by Marion L. Soards (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1999).

Marion Soards is Professor of New Testament Studies at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  He (yes, he) is also the author of several other books on Luke and Paul.  This commentary treats 1 Corinthians in five sections according to theme: the gospel and wisdom (1-4); matters in the everyday life of the Corinthian church (5-10); the need for orderly worship (11-14); the truth of the resurrection (15) and a concluding paranesis (16).  The introduction deals with the normal background matters (with the omission of a consideration of gnosticism in the section on the background to Paul’s thought) before the text is examined in 54 smaller sections.  As is usual in this series, an exposition of each section is followed by additional notes.  The notes here are particularly good at dealing with the text-critical questions which arise from a study of the text, and give some helpful bibliographical details.

Soards raises many questions in the body of the commentary which he does not always answer.  This is good in that it stimulates readers to think the issues through themselves, but may be frustrating for some who are looking for answers rather than more questions.  On the difficult 14:34-36 (the prohibition on women speaking in the assembly) several options are outlined without a final decision being made on either the text-critical or interpretative issues.  His conclusion that “the arguments in verses 33b, 34-35, and verse 36 are – whatever they mean – based purely on custom and the law, not on revelation or a word of the Lord” may be frustrating for some, but Soards finds it “astounding” that one reading of “these difficult enigmatic verses, coupled with one reading of 1 Timothy 2, became the church’s norm” (pages 307-308).  Sadly, his interpretation of kephale as “source” in Chapter 11 does not interact with Wayne Grudem’s detailed work on this issue.


1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5 is seen as crucial for the understanding both of the letter itself and of Paul’s theology generally.  There are also some good observations on the Jerusalem Collection in chapter 16.  Chapter 13 is seen as something of an excursus, and the integration of this chapter with the rest of the letter could have been brought out more clearly.  One slight annoyance was the “Armenians” on page 207 should really be called Arminians!  Overall, however, this is an interesting commentary on 1 Corinthians which interacts with much of the best scholarship on the letter without being unnecessarily constrained by it.  This interaction would be its strongest point in a battle with Paul Barnett’s similarly-sized commentary for a place on the shelf next to Fee or another more weighty offering.


This review was first published in Churchman 118.2 (2004).

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