The following interview with Southwestern Seminary professor Mark Taylor on his newly released commentary on 1 Corinthians was first published on B&H Academic Blog. The blog also posted an excerpt from the commentary.
Discuss your general academic background, your work in Pauline literature and, more specifically, the Corinthian letters. What might a reader want to know about you, your research interests and expertise?
I spent several years in the pastorate following my first theological degree, the Master of Divinity. In 1995 my wife and I moved to Fort Worth, Texas, to pursue the Ph.D. in New Testament. Pauline studies comprised a good portion of my research seminar work. When it came time for the dissertation, however, I tackled the long-standing problem of the structure of James and became interested in text-linguistics, also known as discourse analysis. All of these experiences shaped who I am today and my approach to biblical interpretation.
What would you say sets your commentary on 1 Corinthians in the NAC series apart from other commentaries on the market?
To a certain extent, the agenda for the commentary is set by the NAC series, which claims to be a theological exposition of Scripture. My interest in discourse analysis most certainly impacted the final result. In the commentary I organize the letter thematically and try to show how the major sections relate to one another in shaping the letter as a whole. I am most interested in the literary dynamics of the letter and in tracing Paul’s thought and theological argument. Exegetical challenges abound in the letter, and I do not always attempt to solve every problem but rather give the reader viable interpretive options.
One of the major differences between my volume and others on the market is length. Some of the more recent commentaries (last 15 years or so) are quite extensive, some approaching 1,000 pages. I have intentionally written a shorter yet hopefully substantial volume for the interested layperson and the teaching pastor. I wanted this volume to be an accessible and reliable reference tool for those wanting more information about a particular passage or issue in 1 Corinthians and for those who regularly teach and preach God’s Word.
What is one of the most consistently misunderstood, or misinterpreted, aspects of the Corinthian correspondence?
It would be difficult to say what part of the letter is most misunderstood. Every portion of the letter has its own interpretive challenges. I am convinced, however, that in spite of the letter’s difficulties, the theological principles that undergird Paul’s approach to the Corinthians’ problems are crystal clear. One can debate, for example, the historical circumstances that gave rise to Paul’s response to the issue of idol food in chapters 8-10 and how to make sense of his lengthy and complicated response to the Corinthians on this matter, but one’s love for God and others is clearly the theological guidepost that informs Paul’s instruction. The same kind of thing occurs in all sections of the letter. In spite of the difficult historical and interpretive questions, the self-evident theological themes make the Corinthian letter especially applicable and relevant to the church.
What is one of the most significant theological insights you have discovered in your close reading of 1 Corinthians?
There is a very strong theology of God’s grace that runs through the letter. In spite of the Corinthian problems, Paul opens the letter, as he often does his other letters, with thanksgiving for God’s grace given in Christ. At two places Paul reminds the Corinthians of God’s faithfulness (1:9; 10:13). Paul recounts the experience of God’s grace in his own life and ministry in 3:10 and 15:9-10 and his passion for the glory of God resonates throughout the letter providing the basis for his ethical exhortations (see esp. 6:20 and 10:31). Arrogance has no place in the Christian life; only profound gratitude for what God has done for us in Christ. Grace properly understood leads to holiness of life. This is Paul’s passion in the letter. He wrote with a profound vision of the Christian life, something that we desperately need to recapture in the modern church.
Would you classify your volume on 1 Corinthians as technical, or does it have some practical or pastoral value as well?
In keeping with the editorial guidelines, most of the technical information and discussions are relegated to the footnotes. Since 1 Corinthians is itself a practical and pastoral letter, the commentary must necessarily reflect this dynamic in order to be faithful to the letter and its intent.
Is there anything you were unable to include in this volume due to space limitations that you wish you could have included?
There is always more that one can say about any given topic in the letter but at some point you have to bring everything into focus and state your findings and opinions concisely. In the end, I think the space limitations and the editorial guidelines for the book were well suited for the intended audience.