Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses

January 6, 2022

“Ray Collins is a scholar with a foot in two camps. He is an exegete of world renowned [sic.], author of several books and countless articles, who has enjoyed a career spanning two continents and innumerable engagements. He is also a priest with a pastoral sense that encompasses not only the broad scope of pastoral-theological issues but also the more specific field of Christian ethics. With this new book, he brings his many talents together and has created a masterpiece of scriptural–theological-ethical erudition. Anyone who wishes to address issues of sexual ethics within the Christian tradition will have to take account of this book if they intend to treat their subject matter thoroughly. One of the nice things about this book is that one learns as much about the New Testament as about the sexual ethics that are present there in various shapes and forms. Collins is first and foremost an exegete, but he is also a teacher, and his writing demonstrates how well he carries out his pedagogical skills.

The first four chapters are primarily about the Gospels. He begins with ‘Stories about Jesus’ (Ch. 1) that concentrates on the Johannine text but by no means is limited to this. Besides demonstrating his expertise on John, the text illustrates some of Collins method for presenting the New Testament. He carefully both situates the narrative and takes apart its various pertinent elements. Ultimately, the commentary illustrates Jesus’s relationship to women in general, eventually shifting to different narratives in Luke’s gospel. Chapter two turns the reader’s attention to the synoptic tradition, specifically the ‘Conflict on Divorce’ (Ch 2). Quite logically, the Pauline tradition makes its debut in the context of this classic question, but the emphasis is still on the synoptics. The reader is further exposed to an appreciation of literary genre, but much more is added by the growing reference to extra biblical literature which will reach its height in the center of the volume. Collins’s extensive footnotes are nearly as interesting as the text itself and provide a broad range of reference material as well as intriguing commentaries of his own. The third chapter, titled with the quotation ‘You shall not Commit Adultery’ from the Sermon on the Mount, contains valuable material about the entire approach to teaching at the time of the early church. The Jewish catechetical tradition is here exposed while Collins explains Jesus’s manners of teaching as central. By the end of the chapter, discussion has moved to Paul and even the epistle of James, and the broad scope of Jewish and Hellenistic sources are fully exploited by Collins. Chapter four, ‘Teaching the Disciples’, goes further in explaining the literary styles of the gospels, in particular Mark and Luke, but now begins to take on more specific issues in the area of sexual ethics. By now, the reader knows that you cannot approach anything in the New Testament without a thorough knowledge of the contemporary literature, but this chapter expands even more deeply into the so-called secular sources.

Having moved into the nitty-gritty as it were, Collins takes on what some might think to be the core of the matter. ‘Conduct to be Avoided’ (Ch. 5). It is here that we see the Author’s moral theological sense emerge most clearly. He implicitly distinguishes between a morality of attitude and one of behaviors, the latter of which is seemingly brought to the fore in the primarily Pauline study. Central to the chapter is the exposure of lists of vices (and virtues) which encompass the whole of biblical literature. Collins’s exegetical proficiency provides only that much more substance to the foundation of his presentation, and in many ways I might consider this the core of the book. Chapters six to ten concentrate on the epistolary writings where it becomes clear that it is primarily Paul who offers material for sexual ethics. The same might be said for the whole of the New Testament, for related material in the other books is presented in an entirely different manner. Chapter six, on ‘Advice to New Christians’, demonstrates Collins’s expertise on Thessalonians which is followed by probably the best known source of sexual-ethical teaching with the letter to ‘The Church at Corinth’ (Ch. 7). In chapter eight we encounter the more theologically broad exposure of Paul’s ‘Pleading with the Saints in Rome’ in which there is are [sic] a number of insights into the evaluation of same sex activity (in contract to ‘relationships’) in this literary context.

Chapters nine and ten will come as no surprise to those who know Collins’s provocative title Letters that Paul Did Not Write . . . as he first reviews ‘Revisionist Paul’ covering Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and James, and then turns to all the other writings ‘Under the Influence of Paul’ in chapter ten, Including Hebrews, Acts, 1 & 2 Peter, Jude and Revelation. The next to last mentioned provides an opportunity for a commentary on the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The final chapter contains a short summary of what has been accomplished and the suggestion of three elements that Collins has already demonstrated must not be neglected in any evaluation of sexual ethics in the New Testament. These are the importance of Pauline anthropology, especially his notion of embodiment: a comprehension of the New Testament’s understanding of women, sharing equal dignity with men: and the centrality of the love commandment in the whole of the text. As already stated, one learns as much here about the scriptures and how to read them as one learns about the issue of sexual ethics in that tradition. One also learns valuable lessons about ethics in general, especially as this is related to the fundamental source for Christian thinkers. This volume, therefore, is neither a ‘good’ one nor a ‘handy’ one to have at ones disposal for thinking, talking and writing about sexual ethics in a Christian context. It is it ‘necessary’ source that should not be neglected.

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