1 and 2 Corinthians Bible Commentary: Interview with David Gill

Erastus Piazza

Erastus Piazza (c) David Gill

David W. J. Gill is Director of Heritage Futures and Professor of Archaeological Heritage at the University of Suffolk, and visiting research fellow at the University of East Anglia. He studied classical studies at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne (on the line of Hadrian’s Wall in northern England) and conducted doctoral research at Lincoln College, University of Oxford. He was appointed a Rome Scholar at the British School at Rome, and then returned to Newcastle as Sir James Knott Fellow working on ancient luxury. He curated the Greek and Roman collections at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, and lectured for the Faculty of Classics. He subsequently moved to Swansea University in south Wales, where he was Reader in Mediterranean Archaeology. In 2012 he received the Outstanding Public Service Award from the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) for his research on cultural property. David is married to Caroline, a published poet, and is a licensed Reader (lay minister) in the Church of England, and regularly preaches and takes services at his local parish church in Suffolk.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians?

My background lies in classical archaeology, in other words the material culture of the Greek and Roman worlds. I had been working on a landscape archaeology project on the eastern side of the Peloponnese in Greece. Indeed one of the Roman period (Augustan) inscriptions from the peninsula referred to a member of the social elite from Corinth who represented this small civic community at the heart of the provincial administration. The Greek text makes me think about how this city of Corinth had links with the smaller communities across the province.

I curated the Greek and Roman collections at the Fitzwilliam Museum in the University of Cambridge for some years, and had been able to work closely with Christian colleagues at Tyndale House who were working on research projects relating to the Corinthian correspondence. We realised that collaboration between classical and biblical scholars would provide an enriching interpretation of the New Testament documents. Out of this work emerged the five volume The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting series published by Eerdmans; I co-edited volume 2, Greco-Roman Setting, with Conrad Gempf.

The other half of the commentary was written by Moyer V. Hubbard of Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. During the writing of the commentary I made a study trip to Israel, and during a site visit on the edge of the Negev I bumped into a group of staff and students from Biola University. It was good to share fellowship with them in such an unexpected location.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

David Gill 1 and 2 Corinthians

The commentary has two main audiences. First it is aimed at a more lay audience though the commentary does have a critical apparatus so that readers can find out more or see the basis for some of the interpretations. Second it is written to help those preaching or leading Bible Studies to have access to relevant information about the colony of Corinth.

My hope is that contemporary Christian people will be able to connect with a letter written in the mid-first century and addressed to a church located in a Roman colony. And then, as they understand that original context and meaning, they will be able to apply it to their own lives and situations.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of 1 and 2 Corinthians?

The commentary is intended to provide the relevant cultural background to the Corinthian correspondence. Corinth was founded as a new Roman colony in 44 BC by Julius Caesar (just before his assassination). The earlier Greek city had been destroyed about a century before and the site had been left abandoned. This new city, the home to the church receiving the letters from Paul, had Roman architecture, used Latin (rather than Greek), and operated within a Roman legal framework. Its two major harbours connected the city both with Italy and with the eastern Mediterranean and cities such as Ephesus, Alexandria and Caesarea. Corinth was also the administrative hub of the Roman province of Achaia. The commentary tries to approach the text from this Roman, rather than Greek, perspective. Paul wrote letters to actual Christian communities in specific places, and this commentary (and the rest of the series, edited by Clinton E. Arnold) attempts to try and bring this relationship to life.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

1 Corinthians is a long epistle and certainly there were times that were both memorable and demanding. One of the most stretching was the section on food offered to idols in chapter 8. Few of us are likely to come across this issue in our regular Christian lives, though there are communities where this is a very real issue. In Roman Corinth meat from sacrifices made at religious festivals could find its way onto the table: the meat market stands next to one of the most prominent temples. Would it have been appropriate for Christians to consume such meat even though they did not accept the validity of the Roman gods?

We also face situations where it is permissible in Christian terms to take certain actions, and yet for the sake of fellow Christians we should refrain. I included a reflective box at this point in the commentary: “Do as I say, not as I do!” It is a chapter that makes me think through my own lifestyle.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

1 Corinthians has that wonderful chapter (13) that describes how love works in the Christian community. It is a passage that is so often read at weddings, and memorably, for a British citizen, at Princess Diana’s funeral in Westminster Abbey.
Yet it is a passage that is addressed to individual members of the church. How do we put our love for Christ into our Christian relationships? It is a humbling passage and one that needs to bring us back to our motivation for serving Christ’s people. I noted in the reflection on this section: “we forget to concentrate on encouraging each other to allow love to permeate our Christian ministry and service”.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on 1 and 2 Corinthians?

David Gill

David Gill

I suppose my response to this question is which books do I find myself returning to as I study 1 Corinthians or find myself preaching from the epistle, or leading a study group?

Gordon Fee’s magisterial commentary has so much thoughtful comment and discussion: but it is very detailed. David Prior’s commentary in the Bible Speaks Today series (IVP) helps ground the epistle in its applications for the Christian community today. Bible teachers and preachers need to help their congregations and audiences to engage with the biblical texts and apply them to their own situations. I also find Tom Wright’s short series of reflections on 1 Corinthians in his ‘Paul for Everyone’ series refreshing. Alongside these commentaries, I would also place Andrew D. Clarke’s Secular and Christian Leadership in Corinth: a Socio-Historical and Exegitical Study of 1 Corinthians 1-6 (1993) and a series of studies by Bruce Winter including his After Paul Left Corinth: the Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change (2001) and Divine Honours for the Caesars: The First Christians’ Responses (2015).

7. What’s next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I have been working on an edited volume, The Urban World and the First Christians, with Steve Walton and Paul Trebilco. This is due to be published by Eerdmans in the Fall of 2017. The volume emerged from an interdisciplinary conference and explored the urban setting for early Christianity. My own contribution was on the Roman colonial setting for early Christianity, and in particular, the communities at Corinth in Achaia, Philippi in Macedonia, and Pisidian Antioch in Galatia. As I write this I have just finished reading the page proofs and am reminded of the thoughtful contributions that will emerge.

My research on the first century background to Christianity is part of my wider work on the classical world. I list my academic publications and some lectures on my academia.edu site: https://ucs.academia.edu/DavidGill/

My professional profile and project details can be found in LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-gill-ba203924/

I write a heritage blog, with Professor Ian Baxter, that includes some sites in Greece and Turkey: heritagefutures.org.uk
This blog includes wider interests in the heritage field including the public interpretation of monuments. And in a sense that is what we are trying to do in our work on New Testament documents.

I tweet @davidwjgill.


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