Romans in Full Circle: A History of Interpretation

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Romans in Full Circle: A History of Interpretation by Mark Reasoner Westminster John Knox, Louisville, 2006. 221 pp. $24.95. ISBN 978-0-664-22873-6.

THE INTERPRETATION OF Scripture, I tell my students, is a conversation with people both living and dead. Or, more theologically, it is a manifestation of the communion of the saints. Unfortunately, most of us have learned to interpret Scripture only with the resources of the most recent scholarship, found in the latest commentaries. Fortunately, that is changing, as theologians and biblical scholars grow increasingly interested in the history of interpretation or reception of biblical books, and thus in the work of earlier saints in the task of biblical interpretation.

Mark Reasoner's book on Romans makes a very accessible contribution to this burgeoning and important interest. In twelve chapters, he deals with the history of interpretation of many key and controversial passages ("loci"). The twelve passages are 1:16-17 (Jew and Greek); 1:19-21 (natural theology); 3:21-28 (righteousness); 5:12 (all sinned); 5:18-21 (the all and the many); 7:7-8:4 (laws of flesh and Spirit); 8:28-30 (calling); 9:16-19 (Israel); 9:20-23 (potter and clay); 10:4 (Christ as the telos of the Law); 11:25-27 (Israel's salvation); and 13:1-7 (subjection to authorities). Reasoner picks these texts because their ambiguities and difficulties have caused fierce debate in the history of theology (knowing that it may surprise some, as it did me, that Rom 6 is omitted.) The major interpreters he considers are Origen, Augustine, Pelagius, Aquinas, Abelard, Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, Barth, and a good number of twentieth-century scholars, especially E. …