New Testament Commentary: Expositary of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians

By Simon J. Kistemaker
Grand Rapids : Baker (1997). 495 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
9.2 (Fall 1998) : 239-241

Kistemaker’s product is the latest in his series of works continuing the William Hendriksen New Testament Commentary after Hendriksen’s death. Before 2 Corinthians Kistemaker has done Acts, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, the Epistles of John, and Jude. He has another good book, The Parables of Jesus. He has continued this commentary series while serving as Professor of NT, Reformed Theological Seminary, but now in retirement as a Professor of NT Emeritus at that same institution.

Throughout, the writer uses his own translations, also the NIV. His commentary is very well organized, as in giving specific lists on points that develop passages. He explains a set of verses, then has distinct additional material and comments on Greek words, phrases, and constructions there. Footnotes show a judicious use of other scholarly literature as in journals. He includes sections on the practical considerations in sets of verses. Kistemaker’s awareness of sources even enables him to cite the standout work by Hendrik Versnel, Triumphus: An Inquiry into the Origin, Development and Meaning of the Roman Triumph (Leiden: Brill, 1970).

Kistemaker has a good section on six theological themes in 2 Corinthians (20-25): suffering and glory, covenant and transformation, dwellings on earth or in heaven, reconciliation and righteousness, eschatology and Christology, and trust and apostolicity. He sees the purpose of the letter as “proclaiming God’s glory” in its transforming sufficiency, and points out that “glory” appears 19 times out of its 165 NT occurrences, whereas the Gospel of John has only 18, Revelation only 17, and Romans only 16. He identifies the opponents in 2 Corinthians as Judaizers with Jewish roots, who are also the so-called superapostles (11:5; 12:11) and the selfappointed false apostles (11:13). But, he holds that all true apostles are equal to, none super over, others and are supportive of one another (28).

The commentator shows that 2 Cor 2:14–7:4 is one of Paul’s several digressions in his epistles, but defends a smooth transition into and out of the section as a legitimate part of the unity of the epistle, as opposed to its being another inserted document (8-9). Likewise he argues for the unity and integrity of chaps. 10–13 with 1–9 (14-15). His idea is that the breaks in Paul’s flow of presentation can be due to his traveling from place to place (cf. 2:12-13), or to his turning briefly from one subject to work on another important thought (6:14–7:1), or to introduce some tone to carry out a pastoral aim, as in chaps. 10–13.

Kistemaker sees the Roman triumph as background in 2:14, but thinks that God leads Paul as a captive in Christ and uses him as a servant in this role (89). With the analogy of the triumph, this is not necessary. More consistently with the figure, God leads Paul as one of His own army, not as a captive, in a pageant of triumph. In the Roman custom the conquered enemies were not participants in the victory but destined to be put to death or slavery. To mix with the triumph picture the idea of Paul’s being a suffering slave facing death is to distort the idea into its opposite and to make a picture represent a mixture of conflicting conceptions. The context does not mingle Paul with captives, but directly contrasts believers as marked for life from unbelievers destined for death (v. 15).

Readers will find in Kistemaker’s work a fine job on Corinthian believers being a letter from Christ (3:3), on the comparison of glory (3:7-11), the unveiled faces (3:12-18), and many other passages. He is graphic in displaying customs, for example, in Paul’s comparing believers and their treasure of the good news about salvation with earthenware pots containing precious treasure in 4:7. He is vividly clear in comparing Paul’s temporary suffering with eternal glory (4:17 f.), distinguishing the trifling from the weighty, the affliction from the glory (160). The section on chaps. 8–9 concerning the collection contains rich explanation with a distinguishing of principles for giving. The indescribable gift for which Paul in doxology prays with thanks in 9:15 is Jesus Christ and His salvation. He is God’s gift in His birth, ministry, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and return (322).

The author also has a good section elaborating on Paul’s “thorn” (12:7). But in describing views, he is vague and weak as he bypasses (slights) evidence one can adduce for human enemies; he casts this aside with the thin objection that Paul would not pray for removal of his enemies, he would only pray for deliverance from attacks by Satan (417-19). One can feel after looking at the brief sketches of views that the author has not done in-depth work or decided to use only a light survey of views that does not provide readers with the benefit of detail. The picture of thorns, for example, was an OT analogy for human enemies, and Paul in his context has many trials, several of which are those by persecutors. Also, not all will concur on 13:5 that Paul refers to examining whether people are in the living, subjective faith of intimate communion, rather than to being authentically in the objective, saving faith. Kistemaker’s assertions do not appear to prove his case.

The 10-page bibliography at the end can be helpful with its commentaries, journal literature, special studies, and tools. Kistemaker also furnishes indexes to authors and Scripture.

All in all, the effort supplies well-reasoned assistance to teachers, pastors, and Christian lay people serious about the study of Scripture. The commentary will take its place as one of the better works on 2 Corinthians, along with efforts by Alfred Plummer, Paul Furnish, Paul Barnett, and Philip Hughes.