As its name indicates, this commentary is astudy commentary. It will benefit the pastor in his sermon preparation; but even more it will benefit the Christian believer who is studying I Corinthians in a Bible study, or for his own private devotion. This is a “popular” commentary—a commentary for the people.
Several facts about this commentary underscore the previous statement. First, Naylor’s expositions are not wordy, but usually brief, and almost always to the point. Second, Naylor’s references to the Greek language are made with the English reader in mind. He does refer to the original Greek—which is good, for it shows that he is conveying the real meaning of God’s Word. And he translates each verse fairly literally. But when he refers to Greek words, he does not use the Greek characters, but English characters, in such a way that the English reader can pronounce the word; and he shows why the word is significant. Third, after treating a section of Scripture, Naylor adds to the section an “application” that is practical and that clearly has the average church member in mind.
Three criteria of a good commentator are that he have a high view of Scripture; that he be doctrinally sound; and that he exegete Scripture well. Especially must a commentator on Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians have these characteristics, for the epistle is full of rebukes, admonitions, and instructions to God’s church on a variety of doctrinal and practical matters. Many of the subjects treated in the epistle are current issues today, such as matters of sexuality, church discipline, divorce and remarriage, tongue speaking and the broader issue of how the Spirit manifests Himself today in the church, matters of worship, and questions regarding the necessity and benefits of the death and resurrection of Christ. One who comments on this epistle without being committed to a high view of Scripture, and without being on sound doctrinal footing, will surely twist this Word of God and lead many astray.
Naylor is to be commended for meeting these criteria of a good commentator.
He holds Scripture in high regard. This is why his translation of the epistle is, in his own words, “slightly more literal than dynamic” (p. 13). In treating 2:12, he defends the doctrines of inspiration and infallibility. And, appealing repeatedly to the last part of 1:2 (“Unto the church of God which is at Corinth,… with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours”), he emphasizes that the epistle of I Corinthians is not “culture-bound,” but is relevant to all believers in any culture at any time in history. This high view of Scripture leads him for the most part to avoid the error of so many Christians and churches today, who sell the faith of the fathers in order to buy into the spirit of the age. It should also be noted that he views Scripture as the complete revelation of God.
Doctrinally, Naylor is sound—at least insofar as he expresses his personal convictions in this book.
The reader will notice Naylor’s commitment to the sovereignty of God in salvation. He confesses God as the sole agent of salvation (p. 35). He speaks of “calling” as the “sovereign act of the Spirit in drawing men to faith” (p. 183), and refers to its irresistible character (“those whom he calls always come,” p. 59). The basic Christian doctrine that Jesus is God’s eternal Son come in the flesh he asserts (p. 459). That Christ’s resurrection is central to salvation he defends when commenting on chapter 15. That the work of Christ benefits a particular group of men, and not all men universally, is emphasized on pages 434 and 463. That the saints cannot lose their salvation he states on page 217.
Regarding other doctrines, Naylor opposes the Romish doctrine of transubstantiation (p. 299), opposes premillennialism (p. 438), and opposes a charismatic interpretation of I Corinthians 12-14. In fact, in the preface Naylor explains that he wrote this commentary in part to respond to Dr. Gordon Fee’s charismatic interpretation of I Corinthians 12-14, which Fee set forth in his commentary published in 1987. And in two appendixes to his commentary, Naylor further refutes the charismatic approach to these chapters.
Although this is not stated in so many words, the commentary gives reasons to suspect that Naylor is a Baptist. If this is true, the Reformed reader will not be surprised that Naylor uses the terminology of “accepting” the gospel (pp. 49, 109), which phrase we consider to be inconsistent with the confession of God’s sovereignty in salvation. He also hints, without expressly stating, that he does not agree with the Reformed position on baptism. Regarding the significance of baptism, he states what no Reformed person would consider to be the fundamental significance of baptism: “Christian baptism displays the believer’s irrevocable allegiance to Jesus, now his Lord” (p. 247). And he disagrees with the covenant approach to interpreting 7:14 (“else were your children unclean; but now are they holy”), which suggests that he favors believers baptism, and does not share the Reformed conception of the covenant.
Naylor’s exegesis is also sound, for the most part. When I disagreed with his particular interpretation of a passage, the disagreement was rather minor—that is, we both agreed on the fundamental meaning of the passage at hand.
The most significant point at which I disagreed with Naylor’s exegesis was in connection with I Corinthians 7, in which is set forth God’s view of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Naylor does find in Scripture a condemnation of divorce, except for fornication, and a condemnation of remarriage, except … when the divorce was for fornication. This he does, because he understands fornication to break the marriage bond. Naylor’s error on this point is perhaps understandable, and one might congratulate him for taking his stand at a time when divorce and remarriage for any reason are the rule of the day. But his error cannot be overstated: it makes the permanency and value of marriage depend on man himself, rather than on God; and it proceeds from a wrong exegesis of the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:32, 19:9, etc., as well as of I Corinthians 7:10, 11, 15, 39.
Sound exegesis leads to an understanding of the need to live antithetically—and Naylor drives home this point throughout the commentary, sometimes in the body of the commentary itself, and sometimes in his “application” section.
He rightly sees the chief importance of preaching, and the fact that worship is to be God-centered and reverent: “Today’s preacher should not be a showman. We need pulpits rather than stage platforms, portable lecterns and clapping” (p. 78).
He is firm on the matter of excommunication: “Nor, if circumstances warrant, is excommunication optional. A church must respond in this fashion when a moral collapse is perceived, both in its own interest and in that of the offender. If action is not taken, a communion of saints can become a communion of sinners” (p. 134).
He understands Scripture to oppose homosexuality: “This seventh chapter is based upon the assumption that all homosexual activity is unnatural and sinful, and that it was never part of God’s plan for mankind (cf. 6:9, I Tim. 1:10; Rom. 1:24-27). Churches which continue to deliberate about whether or not to receive homosexuals to communicant worship show that they do not take the New Testament seriously” (p. 165).
Grounding his views in the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection, Naylor states his opposition to believers celebrating Halloween (p. 449), and bemoans the materialism of our day which detracts us from working for the Lord (p. 468).
These and other “practical points” make for interested reading, and a valuable aid in studying this epistle.
I recommend this commentary to any Christian who takes the Bible seriously. It will be profitable reading—even for reading’s sake.