The back pages of the June 2013 issue of JETS contain some very helpful book reviews. As usual, reviewers alerted me to a couple of books I need to read, and tipped me off to a number of books I should definitely skip. In some cases, just reading the review was enough to fill me in on the recent direction of certain discussions, especially in biblical studies. Good reviews are worth reading in their own right, without any necessary reference to the books under discussion.
I had a moment of insight while reading one review, Paul Rainbow’s appreciative take on the 2012 Romans commentary by Colin Kruse in the Pillar Commentary series. This 600-page resource, by the way, is currently on sale for less than $3 on Kindle. Go ahead and go buy it, I’ll wait until you get back.
Rainbow gives Kruse’s commentary “a hearty recommendation” as “a handy, up-to-date reference source for busy clergy and a sound guide for students, without becoming too hefty.” In 3 pages, Rainbow surveys Kruse’s overall approach to commenting on Romans. He reports on how Kruse identifies the theme and purpose of Romans, how he interacts with previous commentators, and how he navigates “new perspective” issues.
Two paragraphs on the final page of the review stand out. Here, Rainbow begins to discuss some larger issues of the theology of Romans, and in particular he focuses on “the important distinction in Romans between the juridic (positional, static) aspect of righteousness (to the fore in Romans 1-5, with recurrences in 8:1, 33-34; chaps. 9–10) and the existential (chapters 6-8; 12-14).” Kruse gets this, he says, “but not always.”
Now this distinction –juridic as opposed to existential– is a far-reaching one that you can’t say is exactly offered in those terms by Romans itself. It’s more of an observation about how the language in Romans functions, about how to parse “righteousness” in the two different ways Paul talks about it. Rainbow and Kruse agree about the necessity of making this distinction in order to follow the flow of thought in Romans. But Rainbow pushes for a different (as he thinks, more consistent) application of the distinction, and lists some places where Kruse takes the wrong road:
*The human race being “under sin” (3:9) means they are indicted on a charge of sin, not “under its power.”
*”Righteousness” in 6:6-7, 16; 8:10; 14:17 points to human acts empowered by grace, not a forensic reckoning.