- Colossians by Paul Foster
Foster's commentary on Colossians is a welcome addition to the Black's New Testament Commentaries series. This full-size commentary features a 121-page introduction, which includes discussions on the location of Colossae, the religious environment of first-century Colossae, believers in [End Page 239] Jesus in the Lycus Valley and Phrygia, the theology of Colossians, the lack of OT quotations in the letter, its authorship, date, place of writing and relationship to the earlier Pauline epistles, its earliest reception, the situation behind the letter, as well as a discussion on the text and structure of the letter. A special feature that Foster incorporates is a prosopography in which a collective group of historical characters is studied (Paul, Timothy, Epaphras, Tychicus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Barnabas, John Mark, Jesus Justus, Luke, Demas, Nympha, Achippus).
After discussing the differing viewpoints on the authorship, date and place of writing, and after drawing up a table of these viewpoints held by commentators between 1792 and 2013 (73–79), Foster hesitantly opts for viewing the letter as having been written by a follower of Paul somewhere between 65 and 80 CE (80–81). Yet, for Foster, the question of authorship "is not the decisive issue. Rather, the significant challenge for commentators is to bring out the rich and finely crafted message of the letter" (81). It is somewhat surprising, however, that there is no discussion on the implications of pseudonymity for the interpretation of the letter or for the reliability of the details contained in the letter (e.g., the situation of the readers, specific instructions from Tychicus, Paul's circumstances, greetings from Paul's fellow-prisoners or co-workers, the writing with Paul's own hand at the end). If pseudonymity is accepted, it is a question whether some of the specific details in the letter are not fictitious too. If so, where does one draw the line between fact and fiction? But more importantly, where does one draw the line between integrity and dishonesty on the part of the author? For example, Foster argues that the letter "draws on the rich repository of Paul's christology to instruct the community about the sufficiency of faith in Christ without any need for supplement." Yet, "to achieve this end, the letter presents its teaching as coming from Paul, and being validated by a significant circle of co-workers, many of whom were apparently known to the Colossians either by name or reputation" (85). But if such detail, of which the reference to Paul's relationship to Barnabas is possibly "not historical" (98) or the "portrait of Epaphras [that] would be potentially something of a literary construct" (148), for example, would in fact trick the readers into thinking it was from Paul when in fact it was not, how could the letter reach its intended goal (see above) with integrity? Or if the recipients of the letter were "living in Colossae in the post-Pauline period" (111), how must one make sense of all the detail pictured as being situated in Paul's lifetime in relation to the situation of the readers pictured in the letter? Or in what way could the reference to Paul's own handwriting [End Page 240] (4:18) "bring Paul closer to early communities of believers" (447) if such a reference was in fact fictitious? Or how does one ethically account for a pseudonymous author presenting a "recollection" of Paul's suffering in order to "generate a positive reception for the teachings and perspectives" of the letter (448)? These underlying questions largely stay unanswered.
In accordance with the Christocentric text of Colossians, an emphasis on the new, heavenly mode of existence in Christ rings throughout the commentary. Ethical imperatives and the new walk in Christ are interpreted as a result of aligning oneself to this newfound identity and way of life in Christ. The eschatology of the letter is interpreted as a realised eschatology. Although Foster interprets Colossians as constituting "creative developments in relation to Paul...