Book Reviews New Testament Paul

Book Review: Colossians and Philemon (BECNT), G. K. Beale

G. K. Beale blew my mind when I read his book The Temple and the Church’s Mission (my long-review here). Since then I’ve tried to get everything he’s written. I’ve not been entirely successful on that front, but I appreciate how his insights come from the little details throughout the whole of Scripture. 

Two few summers ago I had the pleasure of teaching through Colossians. I wish I could have had this in hand (though it’s probably good I didn’t because I already had too many commentaries). But Beale is always a reliable guide, and he is very congenial even when he disagrees with others (as I hope I am when I disagree with him too).

His introductions are 21 pages (Colossians) and 8 pages (Philemon) long. That is to say, they’re not very long. But he provides five excursuses at the end of his commentary on

  1. The problem of certain criteria for “non-Pauline” letters,
  2. Criteria for discerning OT allusions and their use,
  3. “Christ among the Gentiles” as part of Paul’s mystery,
  4. The OT background of Colossians 2:13, “the uncircumcision of your flesh,”
  5. Master-slave relationships.

In his preface, Beale acknowledges that many commentaries have been written on Colossians (his primary aim) in this volume. Beale decided to go ahead and write this commentary because he saw a need to study the OT allusions more carefully “to determine how they might affect the interpretation of Colossians” as well as to study how the Jewish exegetical tradition interpreted these OT allusions “and how such interpretations related to the use in Colossians” (xi).

Introduction

After laying out a few options, Beale believes Paul authored Colossians. Some of the important OT allusions deal with:

  • the temple as it is fulfilled in Christ and the church (1:9-10, 19; 2:9, 10),
  • Christ as the last Adam and end-time image of God (1:15),
  • the relationship of the OT law to the Christian (2:16-17),
  • the new creation (1:15-23; 2:20; 3:1-11),
  • and Paul’s presentation of the gospel (2:14). 

Outlines

Rather than providing a bland outline, Beale gives an explanatory outline, which I appreciated. What I mean is that with almost every outline point Beale writes, he provides a note on how point A transitions to point B. For example, under II. Letter Thanksgiving, Beale writes

  • A. Paul thanks God for the readers… (1:3-8)
    • Transition: To what does Paul’s thanksgiving lead?
  • B. Paul prays continually that believers would understand God’s will for them to live with the purpose of pleasing the Lord Christ in every way (1:9-14). 
    • Transition: Who is Christ “the Lord” whom believers are to live for and please and what has Christ done for them? 
  • C. Christ’s supremacy over the first creation is a pattern recapitulated for the new creation to bring about reconciliation of all creation, especially in order to make believers acceptable before God (1:15-23). 
    • The flow of thought in 1:3-23 climaxes with the christological section of 1:15-23. 

In the gray box that begins each new section, Beale explains the sections main idea and any chiasms and literary connections that support it. Beale traces the flow of thought here, helping you to get a grasp on the section before diving into all the details.

Additional Details

His Additional Details sections are a goldmine. Often commentators have relegated that section for notes on textual criticism. Beale talks about that too, but he dives into the nitty gritty of OT allusions, which many will appreciate. He has 8 1/2 pages of additional notes for 1:9-14 alone. 

Interpretations

1:9: Being “filled with the knowledge of God’s will” means that believers will “be characterized by knowing God’s ‘will'” (55). Here it means bearing fruit in obedience to God. 

And “in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” alludes back to Exodus 13:3, 35:31-32, 1 Kings 7:14, and possibly Isaiah 11:2-3. The point of the allusion: “Paul is praying that God would fill believers with the Spirit in order that they would build their ethical lives skillfully” (55). They are temple-building, and “‘bearing fruit in every good work’ is part of the process of them contributing to building up the body of Christ… the new spiritual temple” (55). 

2:12: Beale argues that spiritual baptism (that is, the baptism of the Spirit) is the baptism Paul is referring to here (with water baptism standing in the background not too far behind). “Since the ‘circumcision’ in Col. 2:11 is clearly spiritual, so is the ‘baptism’ in verse 12a” (193). 

2:16-17: The OT laws mentioned here were concerned being acceptable for worshiping God in the OT temple. However, Christ is the temple now. He has taken our penalty, we are in union with him through his death and resurrection, and we are clean and acceptable before God. 

3:10: Since we are in Christ and have taken off the “old man,” our flesh, and are found in Christ, we have received/put on the “new man.” Paul then commands the Colossians (and so, us) to not grab ahold of the traits and habits of our flesh, but to follow in the footsteps of our Savior, the Last Adam. 

Recommended?

Though I didn’t dive too deeply when I studied Colossians, Beale’s commentary is certainly one to get. Along with Moo and McKnight, Beale’s volume is a treasure trove. He is a careful exegete, and a master at it too. If you are preaching, teaching, or just wanting to study Colossians deeply, buy Beale. 

Lagniappe

  • Series: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
  • Author: Greg K. Beale
  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (April 16, 2019)
  • Sample: Read the Introduction

Buy it from Amazon or Baker Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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