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Spring 2019 · Vol. 48 No. 1 · pp. 66–67 

Book Review

1 Corinthians

Dan Nighswander. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2017. 389 pages.

Reviewed by Tabitha VandenEnden

Dan Nighswander is a life-long minister who has served in many capacities in Mennonite Church Canada as well as in the Mennonite Brethren and Brethren in Christ conferences. That long tenure in Mennonite-Anabaptist ministry and his academic training (he has a ThD in New Testament from the Toronto School of Theology) eminently qualify him to write this long-awaited Believers Church commentary on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. He does not disappoint. Nighswander’s commentary is suffused with scholarly insight, pastoral clarity, and sensitivity to Anabaptist concerns, all essential virtues for anyone who undertakes to offer more than a one-dimensional understanding of this challenging letter.

For Nighswander, Paul’s main thesis statement is found in 1 Corinthians 1:10 where he calls the Corinthian church to unity (32). Indeed, Nighswander regards unity as the overarching theme of the entire letter, not just its first four chapters as some have argued. Those early chapters are where Paul lays out the fundamental convictions that guide his approach to the ethical questions, theological errors, pastoral problems, and administrative issues that he will tackle in chapters 5–16. Nighswander identifies five such convictions: (1) the crucified Christ is the heart of the Christian gospel; (2) in God’s realm the values of wisdom-versus-power and shame-versus-honor are reversed; (3) spiritual matters are to be spiritually discerned; (4) God calls the church into being and the church belongs to God; and (5) Paul’s own authority rests in his preaching and representation of the crucified Christ (127). Throughout the rest of the commentary, Nighswander does a commendable job of explaining how these underlying principles shape and inform Paul’s discussions later in his letter.

As a commentary intended as a resource for pastors and laypersons, Nighswander’s introduction to 1 Corinthians is a valuable guide. He takes time, for example, to discuss the nature of rhetoric and the important role it plays in Paul’s argumentation. Even though Paul seems to scoff at rhetorical skills (1:17, 20; 2:1, 4), he himself uses rhetoric deliberately and persuasively throughout his letter (31). The role of rhetoric in 1 Corinthians becomes an important interpretive guide, especially when Nighswander examines 14:34-36. He demonstrates that Paul’s statement that women should be silent in the church is not Paul’s own opinion but an instance of Paul using a rhetorical device to dismiss that argument, which in fact comes from others in the Corinthian church (305).

Another helpful feature of Nighswander’s commentary appears in the section titled, “Preaching and Worship.” Those who follow the Revised Common Lectionary will appreciate that Nighswander points out how the {67} various passages of 1 Corinthians appear there. This is useful for preachers and worship planners as they consider how 1 Corinthians relates to other scriptural passages and to the liturgical calendar.

From a pastoral perspective, one of the key strengths of the Believers Church Bible Commentary is that it helps readers engage the biblical text with the local congregation in mind. In the “Text in the Life of the Church” section, Nighswander ably applies Paul’s ethical and theological insights to the current life of the church. Given the broad range and complexity of the issues addressed by Paul, this is no mean feat. But occasionally he leaves us wanting more. I would have liked to see Nighswander offer a more sympathetic and in-depth discussion of issues that are a source of current debate, such as same-sex marriage (190-91) and women in leadership (315-16). The wide variety of opinions on these issues and the painful divisions they cause in Anabaptist congregations and conferences warrant more careful and extensive hermeneutical engagement with Paul’s letter.

Maintaining unity is certainly one of the most difficult challenges facing the church today. From beginning to end, Nighswander’s commentary addresses this vital issue by relating the various portions of the letter to Paul’s main thesis. Paul’s argument finds its climax in chapter 15, which focuses on the Resurrection. Nighswander highlights that all of Paul’s arguments for unity and ethics find their source in the gospel: Christ died, was buried, and was raised on the third day (320). Because of its strong focus on our unity in Christ—and at a time when unity seems so elusive—I would gladly recommend this volume for any pastor’s reference shelf.

Tabitha VandenEnden
Co-Pastor of the Grantham Mennonite Brethren Church
St. Catharines, ON

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