Vincent M. SMILES, First Thessalonians, Philippians, Second Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2005, pp. 125. $6.95 pb ISBN-13: 978-0-8146-2867-6 and ISBN-10:0-8146-2867-2.
Reviewed by Craig PRICE, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 3939 Gentilly Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70126

“The value of Paul’s letters for the church today is as great as the challenges the church faces,” says Vincent Smiles, author of volume 8 in the New Collegeville Bible Commentary Series. He provides commentary for five letters in the Pauline corpus—1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philippians, Colossians and Ephesians. Smiles offers fresh insight drawn from recent scholarship in Pauline studies and makes contemporary application from these letters. The Greek text is the basis of his exegesis and commentary. This provides an excellent compliment to the New American Bible text printed conveniently on each page for the reader.

Smiles emphasizes the purpose of ancient letter writing and the occasional nature of NT letters. The letters were written to address specific situations for the original hearers, but this does not preclude application for subsequent generations. He moves from exegesis to application by bridging the cultural and chronological gap of the original setting to our contemporary setting. This is a valuable contribution of the commentary, especially for those in a pastoral setting. He believes that failure by some contemporary interpreters to give greater consideration to the circumstantial nature of the NT letters has in part contributed to errant eschatological views regarding the end times. Thus, he warns against taking texts out of context and doing injustice to the intentions of the biblical authors. He says, “The Scriptures are relevant today because the theologies, principles, and values they enunciate are foundational for the church in every age.”

Highlighting rhetorical features, textual difficulties, and enigmatic passages throughout the commentary, Smiles deals with the major problems in the letters. His treatment of literary critical issues such as authorship, purpose, and provenance is concise and thorough. He maintains Pauline authorship for 1 Thessalonians and Philippians, although he acknowledges the possibility of dubious sections in each letter. He argues for non-Pauline authorship for 2 Thessalonians, Colossians and Ephesians, but asserts that these letters of faith are Sacred Scripture, regardless of authorship.

Smiles takes the reader carefully through each letter. In First Thessalonians we receive our earliest glimpse of the local Christian community, church leadership roles, and the ongoing power of the Gospel in the world. Philippians enlarges our understanding of Paul and his theology, especially of the characteristics in the divine-human relationship. In light of passages like the great Christ-hymn of Chapter 2, we are challenged with a greater vision of faith and a deeper walk of commitment in Christ-like sacrifice. Second Thessalonians encourages us to persevere through the sufferings and perplexities of life. Colossians brings us back to the primacy of the divine relationship with God “in Christ” by avoiding the seductive power of some “philosophy” that threatens to mislead believers. Ephesians beckons that we embrace the unfathomable “love of Christ” in order to be a more effective believer in the world today.

Vincent Smiles has made a solid contribution to The New Collegeville Bible Commentary Series. As in each volume, the NAB text is cross referenced to passages treated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the helpful section of review aids and discussion topics is provided for further reflection. Affordably priced and attractively bound, the New Collegeville Bible Commentary Series promises to be appreciated and read by a wide range of Bible students.

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