7 Questions on 1 Corinthians in the Pillar Commentary Series
Roy E. Ciampa (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen) is the S. Louis and Ann W. Armstrong Professor of Religion and the Chair of the Department of Religion, at Samford University. Before arriving at Samford in August 2018, Dr. Ciampa was with the Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship at American Bible Society.
Before arriving at Samford in August 2018, Dr. Ciampa was the Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship at American Bible Society, where he provided advanced professional development in biblical studies, Bible translation and Scripture engagement for leaders in that area of scholarship around the world. Previously he was Professor of New Testament and chair of the Division of Biblical Studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary near Boston, where he taught for thirteen years and where he continues to provide leadership for their Doctor of Ministry track in Bible Translation. Before going to Gordon-Conwell, he was a missionary professor of biblical studies in Portugal for over a decade and served as a translator for the Portuguese Bible Society’s contemporary Portuguese translation of the Bible.
Dr. Ciampa teaches New Testament and biblical studies, and his research focuses on the use of the Old Testament within the New Testament and Pauline studies. In addition to co-authoring The First Letter to the Corinthians in the Pillar New Testament Commentary Series with Brian S. Rosner, he is also the author of The Presence and Function of Scripture in Galatians 1 and 2 (Mohr Siebeck, 1998) as well as numerous scholarly articles and essays.
Dr. Ciampa is an ordained Baptist minister who has served in various roles in churches in Portugal, Scotland and the U.S.
He is married with two adult children and one grandson. He enjoys hiking, boating, traveling, studying and teaching about the Bible, and spending time with his wife, his family and his students.
1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on 1 Corinthians?
The original invitation to write the commentary was extended to Brian Rosner, who had published his doctoral dissertation and various articles on 1 Corinthians. I had carried out my doctoral work on Paul’s dependence on the OT in Galatians 1 and 2 under Brian’s supervision. During that time we became good friends. We had similar approaches to understanding Paul and his way of responding to pastoral challenges. Brian invited me to co-author the commentary with him. I was eager to expand my earlier work on Paul to focus on this incredibly important letter, full of pastoral wisdom and exegetical challenges.
2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?
The commentary has something for all of those audiences, and we have received positive responses from people in each of those categories. It was written with pastors and students foremost in mind, but it includes exegetical proposals that reflect fresh research and that are of interest to scholars/professors as well. It is written at an accessible level so that more intellectually oriented lay Christians also find it helpful.
3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of 1 Corinthians?
Three areas come to mind. First, unlike previous work on 1 Corinthians, we do not see the structure of the letter as simply reflecting a series of responses to a random set of questions (some communicated in person and others in writing). Rather, we discern a structure that reflects early Jewish and Christian responses to Gentile vices and their sources. That structure perceives an organic relationship between following true of false wisdom (chapters 1-4) and a tendency to engage in or commitment to flee from sexual immorality (chapters 5-7) and idolatry (chapters 8-14), with the gospel rooted in Christ’s resurrection (chapter 15) providing the key moral point of departure. The key parts (wisdom’s relationship to porneia and idolatry) are seen laid out in an extremely concise way in Romans 1:21-25. The evidence for this macro-structure for 1 Corinthians, and its implications for our understanding of the key thrust of the letter are provided in the commentary.
Secondly, our commentary also suggests a biblical-theological framework behind Paul’s pastoral engagement with the Corinthians, one which we think provides contemporary pastors and other church leaders with rich insights for dealing with similar kinds of challenges in ministry today.
Finally (to keep this from going into too many points), most research on 1 Corinthians has generally moved on from the theory that an over-realized eschatology was the primary problem with the Corinthian Christians’ understanding and living of the faith to an understanding that they were being overly influenced by dominant ways of understanding the world in their cultural environment. In the modern period has tended to provide exoticized portrayals of the Corinthians: they were influenced by Gnosticism or by the thought that they had already become like angels and so should stop having any sexual relationships, even within marriage, etc. Our commentary is more consistent than others in arguing that even when it comes to sex the Corinthians were responding in terms of dominant debates about kinds of appropriate sex, rather than the more exotic idea (based in part on a misunderstanding of the euphemism in 7:1) that they were committed to celibacy even in marriage. In general our commentary reflects both a very careful study of Old Testament and Jewish backgrounds (which are the primary though not exclusive influences in Paul’s own theology) with a fresh consideration of dominant Greco-Roman ideas that seem to have distorted the Corinthians understanding of the gospel.
4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?
Chapter 7 was particularly memorable since we came to a rather different understanding of the likely background to Paul’s argument in that chapter. It entailed significant research into the euphemism of touching as well as other ancient Greek and Roman backgrounds related to sex and marriage. We wrote 100 pages just on 1 Corinthians 7!
5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?
The biblical-theological orientation of this commentary had us constantly wrestling with and being edified by the theological vision informing Paul’s missionary/pastoral teaching. Our understanding of the centrality of God’s glory in Paul’s thought and argument and its role in the structure of the letter magnified the edifying nature of each section.
6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on 1 Corinthians?
David Garland’s commentary is excellent and comes closest to what we are doing, although there are innumerable places where we differ (e.g., the structure, elements of the situation, various particular interpretive issues). Gordon Fee’s commentary still has great value on many particular points, even though we think his overall framework for understanding the letter is now a bit dated. Anthony Thiselton’s NIGTC commentary on the letter is a great source of information about various things that have been written about the letter. Richard Hays’s concise Interpretation commentary provides great insight in short scope.
7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?
Besides various shorter essays, Roy is working on the Tyndale Commentary on the Johannine letters and Brian is working on a book on personal identity and a critical introduction to 1 Corinthians. Together we have proposals for a co-authored book and a co-edited book with publishers at the moment and we hope to be able to announce those books soon. People can follow us on Facebook or on our faculty pages using the following links:
Get Dr. Ciampa’s 1 Corinthians commentary
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