As part of the series: Catholic commentary on Sacred Scripture, First Corinthians by George Montague, prolific author and master teacher at St. May’s University, fulfills the aim of the series: “to serve the ministry of the word of God in the life and mission of the Church for those engaged in or training for pastoral ministry and others interested in studying Scripture to understand their faith more deeply…” (Editors’ preface, p.10). The special focus of these commentaries on “the meaning of the text for faith and life” (ibid) includes the following helpful features: brief and clear introductions to each textual unit and where it fits into the overall letter and Paul’s theology, then after the NAB text, a list scriptural parallels (OT and NT), followed by references to the Catechism and the Lectionary—very useful for liturgical or study group. Each section concludes with: “Reflection and Application,” that situate the text in the life of the Church today.
Interspersed throughout are “sidebars” on the Biblical Background and Living Tradition—the “writings of saints and Church Fathers”—including Vol.7 of ACCS (Ancient Christian Commentaries on Scripture) on First Corinthians and St. John Chrysostom’s Homilies on First Corinthian. Montague also frequently cites other early Christian authors in connection with the many pastoral and theological topics Paul treats in this important letter.
Overall Montague’s commentary strikes a good balance between clarifying the main issues treated by Paul in the letter—for non-specialists—and, for those who have studied the Bible in more depth, not neglecting difficult texts or controversial issues in the letter (such as Paul’s advice to “deliver this man to Satan” (5:5) or “women should keep silent in the churches” (14:33) Montague’s positions are conservative (the latter is authentic—but needs to be understood) and clearly explained in terms of Paul’s overall emphasis on love. Very helpful, I found, where some lengthy treatise-like commentaries, e.g. on Resurrection in Christianity: 260f (before beginning his comments on 1 Corinthians 15) or on prophecy and building the church today or 242-244: “What is the gift of tongues” (Augustine’s calls it “jubilation”), as well as his term “preconceptual” prayer—to explain tongues in relation to prophecy. Finally, regarding Paul’s long section on “meat sacrificed to idols” (p.182, on 10:23), Montague notes Paul’s “moral and pastoral insight and persuasion,” that appeals to love to motivate. Montague gives a modern parallel: attending the wedding of a relative being married outside the church.
Although Montague sometimes mentions Paul’s use of inclusio, a term defined in the “Glossary”—along with “chiasm”, but he doesn’t discuss inclusio in the section on Paul’s “Literary Techniques” (22f.) and doesn’t point out its importance in the overall structure of the letter. It would have helped explain the logic of topics in 1 Corinthians 1-4 and 8-10, as Paul’s normal way of structuring discussions (see Peter Ellis: Seven Pauline Letters, on 1 Corinthians: see pp. 47, 76).
Finally, Montague’s “Reflection and Application” include many concrete examples from his personal experience as priest, celibate religious, and college teacher. This makes the commentary interesting to read, even for those who have already read many other commentaries, and helps clarify the topics for discussions today.
One critique: in the bibliography at the end, the “Scholarly Commentaries” include two: David Garland’s commentary on 1 Corinthians in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series: Baker Academic, 2003) and Anthony Thiselton’s First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Eerdmans, 2000). I am supposing the recent Sacra Pagina commentary on First Corinthians (by Raymond F. Collins) is considered too scholarly for this commentary—even though the goal of Sacra Pagina: “for biblical professionals…clergy, and religious educators”…”to provide sound critical analysis without any loss of sensitivity to religious meaning”) is very compatible with this series.