By I. Howard Marshall
Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
2.2 (Fall 1991) : 213-215
This recently begun series seeks to justify its place among an already existing glut of commentaries on NT books by writing concisely for the church an explanation of the text and showing its present relevance and application (p. 9). It is based on the NIV, and geared for pastors, students, Bible teachers, and small-group leaders. The exposition appears on the upper part of each page with more special detailed comments at the bottom in notes.
Marshall believes that if a Christian were "to be ship-wrecked on a desert island and allowed to have only one of the New Testament letters . . . 1 Peter would be the ideal choice . . ." (p. 12). It takes up many subjects vital for Christians.
The author pays tribute to outstanding, detailed, older commen-taries by E. G. Selwyn and F. W. Beare, to J. N. D. Kelly for his helpful work for students, and to C. E. B. Cranfield for his exegesis and exposition of 1 Peter as God's Word for today (pp. 11-12). The epistle, he says, has three lines of crucial instruction: help for recent converts, direction in Christian ethics, and aid for facing persecution. He furnishes a good five-point defense of authorship by Peter versus a pseudonymous writer (pp. 22-23), a nine-point list of key points in Peter's theology, and a six-part outline. The main headings for the core of the book are basic characteristics of Christian living (1:13-2:10), social conduct (2:11-3:12), and the Christian attitude to hostility (3:13-5:11).
The book is concisely articulate regarding Peter's message. Much of the commentary is excellent, written in a clear and stimulating style. Valuable remarks about trial are in 1:6-7, a very profitable section on "Purity and Growth" in 2:1-3, and many worthwhile tie-ins with life today. He often points out a number of views on how a text has been interpreted, as in the five possible interpretations of Christ's suffering in the flesh in 4:1. He does not favor a link with Paul's idea of death/life with Christ in Romans 6, but favors saying that the Christian's preparation to suffer unjustly shows his commitment to a principle of opposing and refusing sin, an ideal but not universally true fact (pp. 133-34). Perhaps he dismisses too quickly the similarity to Romans 6.
The commentary on 3:19-21 is good (pp. 122-29). He explains the main views, but prefers the concept that Christ went to a prison in the heavens after His resurrection as He ascended, and proclaimed His victory of the cross and God's defeat of disobedient spirits (evil supernatural beings). He objects to a universalist view that allows a second chance for the lost to hear and be saved (p. 128). On 4:6, he sees a reference to Christians who now are dead physically, but had received the gospel before death (p. 137). His discussion of the "crown of glory" (5:4) is general and obscure, and does not offer a good explanation of a possible relation in this same context between leaders receiving this crown and believers in general receiving glory (v. 10). On 5:13, he says "She who is in Babylon" is the church at Rome. "The Jews applied the nickname to Rome after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, but long before this date Roman writers themselves had begun to characterize their own city as another Babylon in view of its luxury and increasing decadence" (p. 175). He does not document his reference to Roman writers.
Marshall is usually an excellent commentator even when brief, but as all writers do, he sometimes offers an arbitrary opinion. An example is his fault-finding with Christians who pray, "Lord, we just want to praise you, Lord, for this, and, Lord, we just want to ask you for that, and Lord, we ask you to bless so-and-so." Perhaps he finds this too general at times, but fails to explain why it is necessarily weak before the Lord who knows the heart's intent (p. 35). One of his more helpful statements is that salvation can have various thoughts, "rescue from danger, healing from illness, deliverance from the threat of death and entering into a state of well-being" (p. 39).
As a whole, this is a richly stimulating, brief commentary that hits the target much of the time. It will be useful to those for whom it is chiefly designed. It freshly shows the relevance of Peter's firstcentury words to the twentieth century.