Friday, July 23, 2010

Themelios Article Surveys the Latest Commentaries on Colossians

Want to get up to speed on the latest on the book of Colossians? In the April 2010 issue of Themelios is an article on “New Commentaries on Colossians: Survey of Approaches, Analysis of Trends, and the State of Research” by Nijay Gupta.

Gupta covers six new commentaries on Colossians and surveys their opinion on eight interpretive cruxes. The six commentaries are:

1) Marianne Meye Thompson in the Two Horizons New Testament Commentary series.
2) R. McL. Wilson in the International Critical Commentary
3) Charles H. Talbert in the Paideia series.
4) Ben Witherington III's socio-rhetorical commentary
5) Douglas J. Moo in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series
6) Jerry Sumney in the New Testament Library series

The eight interpretive cruxes are:

1) Authorship
2) The Colossian Heresy or Philosophy
3) Paul and the sufferings of Christ (1:24)
4) Stoicheia tou Kosmou (2:8, 20)
5) The Fullness [Plērōma] of God (1:19; 2:9)
6) Shadow and Body/Substance (2:17)
7) Worship of Angels (2:18)
8) The Household Code (3:18–4:1)

Just to give one example here’s the paragraph on Stoicheia tou Kosmou. But first, to give you an idea of the problem here’s how various versions have translated it:

NKJV – “principles of the world”
ESV, NET – “elemental spirits of the world”
RSV - "elemental spirits of the universe"
NIV – “basic principles of the world”
TNIV – “elemental spiritual forces of the world”
HCSB - "elemental forces of the world"
NLT 1st ed. – “evil powers of the world”
NLT 2nd ed. – “spiritual powers of the world”
KJV, ASV, Young’s Literal – “rudiments of the world”
NASB – “elementary principles of the world”
GW –“the world’s way of doing things”
NCV – “ruling spirits of this world”
CEB (Common English Bible) - "the way the world thinks and acts"
“More controversial is the meaning of the phrase stoicheia tou kosmou, which can be understood in three ways. It could refer to the spiritual beings that dominate the earth (the archic view), the basic principles of the world (the logical view), or the component parts of the world (the elemental view). In twentieth-century scholarship, the archic view was dominant. However, among our six modern scholars, there is no consensus. Thompson (53) and Witherington (155) draw attention to the logical view as the “teachings” and “rules” of the philosophy seem to be a major issue. Talbert (211–12) leans towards the archic view, while Moo (187–92) argues that a combination of the elemental and archic is appropriate. Sumney and Wilson (195–96) appear to be undecided. Sumney focuses on the rhetorical import of the phrase, namely, to point out that ‘the teaching has a worldly source instead of a divine one’ (131).”
“Though disagreement continues over the stoicheia, it is helpful to observe how the conclusions are reached. Some scholars focus on usage of the term in comparative literature (e.g., Moo, Wilson, Talbert), while others take interest in the purpose of the phrase in Colossians (Thompson, Sumney, Witherington). Both approaches, of course, are important for the elucidation of the phrase. Indeed, it must be recognized that there is a dialectic that exists between a word’s (or phrase’s) meaning in common usage and the meaning as it appears in context. At the end of the day, even though one must get a sense for how a group tends to use a particular word or phrase, the key determinant in meaning is the actual historical and literary context of the work at hand. It would seem that those commentaries that make the Pauline rhetorical context primary (without ignoring antecedent and contemporaneous usage) will end up finding a consensus sooner.”
The article is concise and well written. Nijay Gupta currently serves as a visiting instructor at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio. Beginning in the fall, he will teach Biblical Studies at Seattle Pacific University.

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