The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon

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The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon. By James D. G. Dunn. NIGTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996, xvii + 388 pp., $32.00.

James D. G. Dunn has followed his commentaries on Romans and Galatians with a very readable commentary on Colossians and Philemon. The commentary is, of course, on the Greek text, and that will put some potential readers off, while being welcomed by others. The format is that of the NIGTC, which means that citations of both ancient and modern authors are in parentheses in the text rather than in footnotes. This is less expensive to typeset, but also harder to read. Dunn could control neither the use of Greek text nor the NIGTC format, but he has triumphed over them in producing a commentary that is a good read as well as good scholarship.

The book itself is divided into two parts approximating the relative sizes of the two works (290 pages for Colossians and 60 for Philemon). A bibliography and an introduction precede the commentary on each of the two books. The introduction flows naturally. For instance, in the case of Colossians it begins with what Dunn feels are the easier questions to answer and ends with the hardest (place of authorship). The commentary is divided into sections of a few verses, each beginning with an English translation of the passage. Verse-by-verse commentary on the section follows, each comment beginning with the Greek text of the verse. The English translation makes the commentary useful by people who may have forgotten most of their Greek (or perhaps never learned any).

Dunn takes a creative position on several matters of introduction. He positions Colossians between the genuine Pauline letters and the post-Pauline letters (Ephesians and the pastorals) by arguing that it was written by someone other than Paul, perhaps a trusted co-worker, while Paul was still alive. Thus Paul approved it, yet it shows someone else's development of Paul's thought. This, Dunn believes, accounts for both the differences from earlier Pauline works and the personal greetings, which would be meaningless or worse if Paul was long dead. Turning to Philemon he suggests that Onesimus had not run away, since Paul does not raise issues pertinent to such a situation, but rather had gone to Paul as a respected third party who could mediate a dispute he had with Philemon. …