Looking at this commentary on First Corinthians with the eyes of a college professor who teaches an introductory course on Paul, my first question is: Can I recommend it to a non-specialist, undergraduate student as a reliable source to do a paper on Paul? The answer is an unqualified, enthusiastic Yes!
The reasons for this are many. First, it gives the student important information about this letter as letter: not only does Vincent Collins present extensive background information on letter writing in the Ancient World, but he convincingly shows that First Corinthians is Paul’s letter, and what this means: Paul is writing a single letter (not a composite letter: Collins’ position), which he signs, and uses as a mode of his own presence.
Secondly, it provides a new way of appreciating Paul’s message: Paul the rhetorician rather than Paul the theologian or Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. Throughout his commentary, Collins uses rhetorical categories to present the parts of the letter. Yes, Paul is the missionary who founded the Corinthian community and the letter—a mode of his presence—does contain his answers to the problems reported to him. But the main point of the letter is: “that you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you” (1:10), and throughout the letter, according to Collins, he is actually developing six rhetorical demonstrations to combat these divisions and convince the Corinthians that they need to be united as “one body” in Christ. While traditional outlines are based on the content of what Paul discusses (Chapter 5: his advice on marriage, chapter 7, the problem of food offered to idols, chapter 8, etc), Collins’ rhetorical approach casts new light on how Paul argues and persuades.
Thirdly, although Collins’ commentary like other major commentaries, summarizes the historical-critical information needed to understand each verse, he also comments on the narrative structures that have been important in recent studies of the Bible as literature.