Writing a Romans Commentary: An Interim Report

Writing a Romans Commentary: An Interim Report July 15, 2014

I’m just now half way through writing my Romans commentary for the SOGBC series. I plan to finish it by October/November. Let me say that it is jolly hard work. Romans is, after all, the magnum opus of the Pauline corpus, with disputed purposes, some curious text-critical problems, a plethora of exegetical problems, covering wide ranging themes, weaved together with a rich tapestry of intertextual citations and allusions, with huge theological capital, and rich rhetorical technique too.  There is so much secondary literature in terms of articles, monographs, and commentaries. Realizing that I wasn’t writing a technical volume for the Hermeneia, ICC, or WBC series, I gave up even attempting to read everything. Instead, I found myself gravitating towards stuff that took my fancy and piqued my interest.

Things I’ve learned.

1. No matter how many times you’ve written, taught, or preached on Romans, there is always more to learn. I’ve taught exegesis classes on Romans several times. I’ve preached on it repeatedly. I’ve worked closely with the Greek texts in various essays and presentations that I’ve prepared. But as I work through the text verse by verse, I’ve learned how much there is to learn about.

2. Writing about application is hard, hard work. Explaining the text or showing its theological significance isn’t too bad. Asking yourself the question, “So what?” or, “How does this shape the way I eat my cornflakes in the morning?” pushes you to apply the text. Finding stories, anecdotes, quotes, and exhortations that make the text sing and sting really strains the brain and requires the full-breadth of your experience.

3. In terms of best resources, I’ve developed a selection of my favourites. When I start out, I read the NA28 and chase up any OT quotes or allusions. Next, I write my own introduction to the text, stating how I think Paul’s argument is developing. Then, I read Moo and Wright. Moo is great because he is solid and sensible even if highly traditional at times. Wright is great because he writes with such eloquence and is able to weave in amazing descriptions of intertexts from the OT and intratexts from the rest of Romans. Then, after I’ve done my own exegesis, I consult a layer of resources. Besides Wright and Moo, the quintet I’ve found most useful is Jewett (encyclopedic, good on honor-shame, always interesting), Dunn (consistent-NPP, well expressed), Schreiner (Kasemann and Stuhlmacher with an American accent), and Talbert (great on weaving in NT background info), and Keck (concise and a consistent-apocalyptic view). Next, other commentaries close on hand too are Cranfield (classic), Kasemann (magnum opus), Tobin (great on rhetoric), and Johnson (good on literary approaches and background). Then I browse as I feel the need to Stuhlmacher, Grieb, Keener, Witherington, Fitzmyer, Nanos, Matera, Morris, Hultgren, Kruse. On history of interpretation resources I’ve found useful Mark Reasoner and J. Patout Burns who give good analysis. Origen, Ambrosiaster, Chrysostom, and Augustine are the pick of older commentaries, but Pelagius is definitely worth looking at too cause it’s not the deposit of heresy you might be expecting. Other Pauline resources I’ve found myself using are Mark Seifrid, Christ, our Righteousness, Francis Watson, Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles, Brian Rosner, Paul and the Law, Wright, PFG, as well as Simon Gathercole, Where is the Boasting? On application, helpful were John Stott (BST), Karl Barth (ranging from inspiring to whacky), Fleming Rutledge (sermon collection), and even Robert Jewett (Herm) when he’s talking about how the text might speak to Roman Christians. I found Peter Oakes and Phil Esler good for historical background. And Peter Lampe’s history of Christianity in Rome was a necessary preface to the whole task. Among introductions to Romans, Chris Bryan’s Preface and Richard Longenecker’s Introducing are definitely worth checking out too.

Perhaps best of all, is that I’m enjoying Romans, even as I struggle with, because it has so much exegetical depth, theological traction, and meaning for us today.

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