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The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) Hardcover – August 25, 2008
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Top Customer Reviews
This volume nicely fills the gap. Moo, Professor of New Testament at Wheaton Graduate School in Chicago, has already authored several important commentaries, such as his top-rate 1996 volume on Romans (NICNT), and his 2000 work on James (PNTC).
This is a significant commentary in an increasingly significant commentary series. The Pillar New Testament Commentary series now has 10 commentaries available, and it serves as a very workable and substantive mid-range series of commentaries. While not overly technical in nature, the series does offer high-quality commentaries that both students and pastors will greatly benefit from. This volume is no exception.
At 471 pages, it is certainly the most lengthy of treatments thus far on these two books. Dunn and Garland were 388 and 389 pages respectively. So this volume is both the most up to date work to appear, taking into account all the recent scholarship on these epistles, and the most detailed and comprehensive.
Concerning the contentious issues of authorship and dating, Moo spends nearly 20 pages arguing for Pauline authorship and a writing of around A.D. 60-61. The place of writing was most likely Rome, and the occasion of the epistle was to promote a high Christology over against false teaching.
As to some of the hotly debated issues in the epistle, Moo provides careful guidance and discussion. He notes various views, while making clear his reasons for his own preferences. And he notes that on many contentious topics, we are best left with some ambiguity and uncertainty.
As to the false teachers that Paul is rebutting, they are often left unspecified and vague in Paul's writings. In some epistles, such as Galatians and 2 Corinthians, the nature and message of the false teachers is more clearly addressed. But in Colossians we are often unsure as to who exactly these false teachers are, and what exactly their false teaching is.
Moo spends 14 pages of his introduction on this question (plus more discussion in the commentary proper). The three main options concerning the false teaching are: Jewish mysticism, Judaism, or syncretism. The last option (a blend of religious and philosophical traditions) seems most likely, especially as elaborated by Clinton Arnold. Yet Moo recognises problems with this option as well. Moo argues that in the end we must simply be content with a generalised account of this false teaching.
Consider the difficult matter of understanding what Paul means by the "stoichea tou kosmou" (the elements of the world). This phrase, found in 2:8 and 2:20 (and in a somewhat similar form in Gal. 4:3) has occasioned much discussion. What exactly Paul means by it is still very much a matter of lively debate.
Moo looks at the three main views: 1) the fundamental components of the material universe; 2) the essential principles; or 3) spiritual beings. He looks at the pros and cons of each, and opts for the first. While aspects of the other two views can be included in this, the first option seems to best make sense of how this phrase was used during Paul's day.
Also, consider the admonition found in 3:5-11, where we are told to put off the old self and put on the new. The usual evangelical understanding is that the believer has two natures: an old sinful nature, and a new nature in Christ, and that there is a constant battle between the two.
Moo suggests that this may not be what Paul had in mind. Instead, a corporate understanding of this text may best fit the context and related passages. It is really about a new humanity created in Christ (Eph. 2:15) as opposed to the old humanity created in Adam (Rom. 5:12). The old self or old man is Adam and his influence, while the new self or new man is Christ.
This is part of Paul's "already-not yet" paradigm, in which we do live in tension between the influences and power of the old man and the new. We have been transferred from the `lordship' of Adam to that of Christ, but the pull of the Adamic realm still impacts on us.
Other difficult passages are also treated in a fair, judicious and balanced fashion. All in all, this volume makes for a very wise, well-written and well-researched commentary. If one had to choose just one commentary on Colossians, this should take pride of place.
As to the content of the work, Moo devotes 46 pages to an introduction to Colossians, 90 pages to Colossians 1 (30 of which are dedicated to the 6 verse "Christ hymn"), 79 pages to chapter 2, 73 pages to chapter 3, 36 pages to chapter 4, and 85 pages to the Book of Philemon. A thorough index of authors, subjects, scripture, and extra-biblical literature fills the final 28 pages. For the purposes of this review, a focus will be given to the majority of the book - the commentary on Colossians.
Moo's introduction to the book leaves nothing lacking. Initially Moo surveys the recipients and moves on to tackle the question of authorship. With a skillful presentation of the opposing sides of the issue, Moo presents a set of logical criterion which each side must meet and then proceeds to demonstrate how the critical approach fails to meet each criteria and how the conservative interpretation succeeds on each point. Moo narrows his focus to what he believes to be the main criticisms of the Pauline authorship of the book: linguistic and theological. Over the next 14 pages, the writer ably defends each point. Following the discussion of authorship, the date and provenance are discussed (6 pages). The occasion of the book (the Colossian heresy) receives no less than 15 pages of thorough treatment. In the reviewer's opinion, no better analysis of the positions on the Colossian heresy exists in print. Moo discusses the difficult subject with a great deal of humility, admitting that he is "not convinced that the letter provides enough information for us to be even reasonably sure about the identification of the false teaching" (49). Moo begins by quickly passing up the minor view that the Book of Colossians deals not with a real heresy, but a theoretical doctrinal aberration (47) as well as the rapidly diminishing view of Gnosticism (53). The author gives a fair treatment of the 3 major views by weighing in with positive and negative aspects of each one (Jewish mysticism, standard Judaism, and syncretistic philosophy, respectively) before cautiously settling on the final view (58). The final 12 pages of the introduction comprise a theological analysis of the book.
The quality of the exegesis is demonstrated throughout the volume in numerous passages, but for the purposes of this review several highlights will be noted. Moo's diagram (81) and discussion of the opening prayer/thanksgiving is extensive and helpful. As noted above, the discussion of the "Christ hymn" (107-137) is nothing less than impressive. The listing of all imperatives in the book (175-176) is a helpful tool that many commentators fail to include. Also, helpful lexical metaphors are well noted throughout the text (e.g. 180). Another theme that presents itself throughout the commentary is the relationship between Ephesians and Colossians. Moo demonstrates that the relationship is fluid and points out differences in argument between the books as well as points of agreement (e.g. 231-232). The exegesis of 3:3 is of the highest caliber (250), weaving serious lexical and historical arguments into some very practical conclusions. Another aspect of the work that this reviewer particularly enjoys is that the writer is not content to simply abandon the discussion of the authorship of the book following the introduction to the book, but rather proceedes to drive the point home on various passages throughout the text (cf. 245, 333-4, 337, 344). Textual variants are treated as extensively as necessary (e.g. 259-260). The treatment of the Haustafeln (292-317) handles well some of the hermeneutical hurdles of topics such as the relationship of husbands and wives and the institution of slavery. In every section the rhetorical and literary structure is presented carefully (e.g. 318). Overall, the handling of each paragraph is filled with quality exegesis and in-depth analysis.
This analysis is no better demonstrated than by the manner in which the writer deals with the interpretational difficulties throughout the book. Moo argues against Dunn's co-authorship theory (76), holds that "all the world" (1:6) is a rhetorical rather than a historical statement (89), believes that the "spirit" of 1:8 is, in fact, the Holy Spirit (92), attaches "joy" (1:11,12) with "giving thanks" rather than "patience and longsuffering" (100), and cautiously holds to the view that Paul modified an existing Christian (114) hymn in 1:15-20 (110). The challenge of the "firstborn of all creation" is handled with ease (119-120). The writer believes that "faith" in 1:23 is a reference to "your faith" rather than "the faith" (144) and that "now" (1:24) is a transitional marker. The challenge of 1:24 is dealt with reasonably well, but the writer's position is not as clearly articulated as this reviewer would have preferred (151-153). The author argues against Wright's pun theory in 2:8 (185), holds to spiritual circumcision in 2:11 and physical baptism in 2:12 (200-202), views "dead in your sins" (2:13) as causal rather than locative (206), dismisses the various theories regarding the "handwriting" (2:14) in favor of the view of a general IOU dismissed at Christ's crucifixion (210-211), views "having stripped" (2:15) as an intensive middle instead of Wright's true middle (213), and holds that "worshipping of angels" is worship given to angels (226-227). Moo dismisses the idea that the "right hand (3:1) is an Old Testament allusion (247), views the "wrath of God" as eschatological (258-259), holds that the "bond" (3:14) is of the prior virtues rather than a bond of believers (281), sees "rule" (3:15) as both an athletic and an administrative metaphor (283), views "word of Christ" as an objective genitive, explains that the "children" of 3:20 are neither very young or of any age, but rather something of a middle ground (304), treats extensively the ethical challenge of slavery (308-310, 315), translates "serve" (3:24) as imperitive rather than indicative (313), applies 3:25 to slaves only (314), views "grace" (4:6) as either/or, both/and divine grace and human graciousness (330), argues for a literal view of the "fellow-prisoner" in 4:10 (338), and holds that the Epistle to the Laodiceans is an uninspired and unpreserved letter written from Paul to the believers at Laodicea (351).
When attempting to find negative elements of a massive tome such as this, one would initially believe that such a task would be relatively easy; however, Moo leaves the reviewer quite a challenge in this area. A handful of small challenges can be presented though. First, Moo's choice of the TNIV was not the best in the mind of the reviewer. At numerous occasions the writer finds himself defending or explaining some of the more "interpretative" elements of the translation (e.g. 345-346). The ESV would have been a much better translation for the purposes of this commentary. Second, it seems that Moo at times grants too much credibility to some of the more questionable views of the text (e.g. 123). Third, a more thorough explanation of his views in regard to circumcision and baptism could be warranted (202). Finally, some textual variants seem to get swept under the rug rather than actually wrestled with (e.g. 335-336). In perspective, these flaws are minor and they do not weigh heavily enough to influence the reviewer's high ranking of the commentary.
In light of the commentary's literary qualities, extensive treatment of the text, helpful and thorough introduction to the book, quality exegesis, and solid handling of exegetical difficulties, this reviewer would without hesitation or qualification recommend this volume as the single best exegetical commentary on the Book of Colossians.
First, I absolutely enjoy the structure and work of Pillar New Testament Commentary. It does not waste the reader's time in wild speculation or endless conjecture or attempting to write a review of everyone's work on each verse.
Second, I think Moo's work is highly usable for preaching and teaching. Good background information and easy to follow exegetical development (with more detailed work in the footnotes) are what I find appealing.
Finally, I plan to purchase all the commentaries in this series (something I have seldom if ever done) because of the serious commitment to Scripture that follows in every treatment of Scripture.
After 25 years of buying commentaries, I'd buy this one again and give it away to friends!