Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The First Letter of Peter by Feldmeier - REVIEW

The First Letter of Peter: A Commentary on the Greek Text – Reinhard Feldmeier
Translated from the German (2005) by Peter H. Davids. Baylor University Press, 2008

Feldmeier is well known to Petrine scholarship for his offering in Die Christen als Fremede: Die Metapher der Fremde in der antiken Welt, im Urchristentum und im ersten Pretrusbrief (Tubingen, 1992). For those without German, access to German scholarship on this epistle is now available not only through the translation of Goppelt’s commentary on 1 Peter (Eerdmans, 1993), but also in this offering. My thanks to Carey Newman for convincing me to purchase this commentary at SBL Auckland, 2008.

As a candidate seeking to further his own understanding of 1 Peter, and learning to engage with commentaries, I write from that perspective. I have no expertise in the Greco-Roman world or early Christian literature. But as one making his way through commentaries on 1 Peter written in English, my comments here may prove helpful to others, especially scholars seeking to write for my ilk.

The commentary opens with an introduction that deals with the usual suspects.
  1. “The Situation of Suffering”,
  2. “The theological interpretation of the situation”,
  3. “The arrangement of the letter”,
  4. “The crossing of the vertical and horizontal dimensions of soteriology”,
  5. “1 Peter and tradition”,
  6. “Questions of introduction”,
  7. “The influence of First Peter”.

This is then followed by a section by section, often verse by verse analysis with an original translation of the author (which is now translated into English, which makes it a double translation). Every section opens with a heading, and then a short bibliography of relevant articles or books on that specific section. There are no surprises in the structuring of the epistle, for those familiar with other commentaries on 1 Peter.

Interspersed among the comments are eleven excurses that explore further various topics within the letter.
  1. Hope
  2. The Reception and Transformation of metaphysical attributes of God in 1 Peter
  3. Temptation/peirasmo"
  4. The Soul and Salvation of the Soul in 1 Peter
  5. The Desires
  6. God as Judge
  7. Rebirth
  8. The Context of the Exhortation to Subordination
  9. Subject and Responsible Citizen
  10. “Humility”/tapeinovfrosunh
  11. Devil/Satan
Exegetical issues: Three problematic texts

1:1-2    Feldmeier concurs with other commentators that this is not specifically a social description of the audience, contra Elliott, but rather a theological description of Christian status in the present form of the world. [52-54]

3:18-22    Suggests that the “spirits” in question, are the souls of those who died in the “deluge”, that is the flood. This is seen as a decent into Hell to proclaim the victory of Christ over evil powers. Admits that any interpretation of this passage is uncertain. [203-206]

4:6    Sees this as an evangelistic invitation to those who died in the deluge, but suggests this is a one off event, probably not repeated. [215-216]

The commentary makes consistent use of background materials in early Judaism to elucidate and explain various features and ideas in 1 Peter. Reference is also consistently made to early Christian writings that show how ideas developed and expanded. This suggests that this is a very historically oriented commentary. There is no attempt to construct a theological understanding of 1 Peter in the commentary itself.

The commentary is rather unevenly spread over the various chapters. Introduction = 45pgs; Chapter 1 = 78pgs; Chapter 2 = 57pgs; Chapter 3 = 33pgs; Chapter 4 = 19pgs; Chapter 5 = 27pgs; Bibliography = 64pgs. This ends with a helpful scripture and ancient materials index, but no subject or author index.

Greek is often discussed in the body of the commentary, though never consistently, and this is not transliterated. In the footnotes, the Greek is never transliterated. The numerous Latin phrases are never translated either, while the Hebrew is only seldom transliterated or translated. Which begs the question, who is this commentary intended for? Scholars? Perhaps in it’s original German format, but that seems unlikely given the amount of attention paid to the various sections.

For example, the exegesis of 1:25 amounts to three sentences, hardly scholarly engagement, and there is no reference to the Greek text. Let me quote the entire commentary on this verse:
This “enduring” word is at the same time the word that – as the something of an afterthought explanation stresses – was proclaimed “to you” as gospel. What was said in 1:3f. about the “living hope” and the “imperishable inheritance” is also true of the “living word” and the “imperishable sperm”: It is the divine life that the elect share in through hope, through faith, and through the proclamation of the gospel. [124]

There is also little engagement with the inter-textual echo of Isa. 40:8. Compare this with Achtemeier, Michaels, Elliott, and Jobes, who offer far more detailed comment on the Greek text, inter-textuality, and the exegesis. The treatment is thus too short to be significantly helpful to those wrestling with the text.

On page 248 there is an error of note, perhaps by the editors at Baylor, where there is a comment in the margin noting that the translation is “Not clear. Please fix.”

This begs our previous question, who is this commentary written for? David Horrell suggests that the translation of this commentary will be valuable for a wider audience [Horrell, 1 Peter (T & T Clark, 2008), 29]. I’m not sure that’s true. This commentary should have been previewed by a graduate student, which would have made it more beneficial to readers. This would have afforded opportunity to offer advice on how best to translate this commentary so that it actually becomes useful for students. The long sentences, Greek, Hebrew and especially Latin needed to be transliterated, and at the very least translated in brackets. Perhaps the translator, P. H. Davids, could also have offered a brief overview of the commentary and its position on certain exegetical or historical issues.

I wouldn’t recommend this commentary to lay readers, although it is a must read for scholars and those doing serious study in this fascinating letter. We should thank Baylor and Davids for making German scholarship on 1 Peter available to a wider readership, but unfortunately a better job could have been done in the editorial phase. 

No comments: