Sister or Wife? 1 Corinthians 7 and Cultural Anthropology
A review of Dorcas Gordon's, "Sister or Wife? 1 Corinthians 7 and Cultural Anthropology," by Dr. Craig Blomberg.
J. Daryl Charles, Virtue amidst Vice: The Catalog of Virtues in 2 Peter 1. JSNTSS 150. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997. 194 pp. $58.00 ISBN 1-85075-686-4;
Scott Cunningham, “Through Many Tribulations”: The Theology of Persecution in Luke-Acts. JSNTSS 142. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997. 376 pp. $74.00 ISBN 1- 85075-661-9;
J. Dorcas Gordon, Sister or Wife? 1 Corinthians 7 and Cultural Anthropology. JSNTSS 149. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997. 248 pp. $53.50 ISBN 1-85075-685-6.
Sheffield Academic Press may be setting a record for the most number of scholarly dissertations and monographs related to the field of Biblical studies published annually. Inevitably consistency in quality is diminished when this occurs, but the JSNT Supplement Series to date has avoided this problem more than some of the other series SAP produces. Certainly these three works all merit publication and contribute to their respective fields.
The most important of the three is Charles’ study of 2 Peter. It actually ranges much more widely than the title suggests; in fact only one of seven chapters zeroes in on the catalog of virtues in 1:5-7. Preceding this are very helpful surveys of the cases against seeing 2 Peter as a paradigm of “early Catholicism” and in favor of an authentically Petrine origin. R. Bauckham’s attempt to identify 2 Peter as a “testament” is closely scrutinized and found wanting. Charles contends that the major theme of the epistle, like the major error of the false teachers combatted, is moral not theological. He studies the moral world of Greco-Roman paganism, especially first-century Stoicism, notes frequent use and Christianization of these traditions elsewhere in the New Testament and then argues that Peter does the same here. A lengthy appendix discusses how Peter balances God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, perseverance and apostasy in ways that do not neatly fit into either Calvinism or Arminianism, but Charles ultimately follows I. H. Marshall’s very centrist form of Arminianism.
Cunningham’s book is a slightly revised version of a dissertation under Darrell Bock in Dallas. Perceiving a gap in the literature, Cunningham produces the first book-length treatment of persecution in both Luke and Acts, treated sequentially and inductively. His six theses are that persecution for Luke is part of God’s plan and providence, understood as the rejection of God’s agents by the supposed people of God, standing in continuity with the persecution of God’s prophets of old, an integral consequence of following Jesus, and the occasion of both the Christian’s perseverance and divine triumph. Preferring literary to redaction criticism, Cunningham deliberately eschews much comparison with Matthew or Mark, but without this element it is harder to determine what is distinctively Lukan vs. what Luke simply takes over from the core of common early Christian kerygma. The book is very repetitive; an entire chapter of synthesis re-presents much of the material previously surveyed under major thematic headings. Nevertheless, the overall result is to provide yet another important balance against the still popular but errant notion that Luke replaces a theology of the cross with a theology of glory.
Perhaps least significant of the three books is Gordon’s analysis of 1 Corinthians 7. With only two items from the 1990s in an extensive bibliography, the book appears to be a minimally revised dissertation from almost ten years ago. Particularly curious in its absence is any interaction with (or even awareness) of G. Fee’s NICNT commentary, arguably the most important recent (1987) commentary on that epistle. This is especially unfortunate because Gordon’s thesis is that Paul simultaneously affirms as well as qualifies two rival factions in Corinth–the pro-celibacy movement (which fits the sociologists’ “anti-structure” model) and a pro-marriage group that supports “communitas.” Fee, on the other hand, reads 7:1 as the Corinthian slogan of the pro-celibacy faction against which all of chapter 7 reacts. After reading the detailed exegesis of both Fee and Gordon, Fee remains more persuasive to my thinking. Nevertheless, Gordon offers unique and helpful summaries and applications to this chapter of Victor Turner’s model of social drama and Mary Douglas’ several versions of “group-grid” analysis. She thoroughly scrutinizes the nature of Paul’s rederessive action. She also posits a trajectory that moves on through 2 Corinthians, Colossians and Ephesians, the Pastorals, 1 Clement and the Apocryphal Acts that reflects developing structure, not least with regards to questions of sex and gender (and the varied Christian responses to it), which fits common patterns of religious institutionalization, though it may not do justice to the diversity of the data at any one cross-seection of the trajectory.
Craig L. Blomberg
Professor of New Testament