Ben Witherington III is easily one of the most prolific commentators of our day. It’s hard to believe that he has written major scholarly commentaries on as many books of the New Testament as he has done. As with all his commentaries, he provides what he calls a socio-rhetorical commentary. Here he tackles Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians. When he says he commentates on the Captivity Epistles, you may notice that Philippians is missing. He explains in the Introduction that that omission is only because he had written a commentary on Philippians earlier. If you are familiar with any of his other commentaries, you will be comfortable in this one. As always, he writes well, he loves scholarly interaction, and he’s not afraid to chart his own course.
The Introduction runs at less than 40 pages and is an Introduction to the three letters together. This serves to highlight well the commonalities between the three. You won’t get far into this book before you see that his conclusion that these letters use an “Asiatic rhetoric” affects all his conclusions. While I find that hard to swallow, I did appreciate several of his conservative conclusions. He crushes the argument that the vocabulary of Ephesians denies it’s the possibility of a Pauline authorship. The other major component of the Introduction is the social settings of Paul and his audiences. In that section, he will cover Paul, his imprisonment, some of his companions, the effect of slavery in the Roman world and the philosophies at play in these regions. He provides a nice bibliography as well.
After one long paragraph of Introduction to Philemon he dives into the commentary. It is quite helpful. Colossians gets its own introduction before the commentary as does Ephesians. You won’t doubt that he has surveyed most all scholarship in his reading to prepare this commentary. He takes an egalitarian position in his commentary in the requisite passages in Colossians and Ephesians. (In Ephesians, he battled Peter O’Brien in his scholarly interaction and in my opinion lost badly). Still, this commentary is a major contribution.
Witherington’s works are a great second commentary to refer to. This one has the quality and sparkle of all his other commentaries that I have seen.
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