Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary

Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary

Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary

Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary


While Paulbs letter to the Romans is the most studied and commented-on document from the biblical period, the major exegetical books on Romans from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been overwhelmingly shaped by the Reformed tradition. Through a careful survey of work on Romans by both ancient Church Fathers and modern exegetical scholars, Ben Witherington III here argues that the interpretation of Romans since the Reformation has been far too indebted to -- and at key points led astray by -- Augustinian readings of the text as filtered through Luther, Calvin, and others.

In this first full-scale socio-rhetorical commentary on Romans, Witherington gleans fresh insights from reading the text of Paulbs epistle in light of early Jewish theology, the historical situation of Rome in the middle of the first century A. D., and Paulbs own rhetorical concerns. Giving serious consideration to the social and rhetorical background of Romans allows readers to hear Paul on his own terms, not just through the various voices of his later interpreters. Witheringtonbs groundbreaking work also features a new, clear translation of the Greek text, and each section of the commentary ends with a brief discussion titled bBridging the Horizons, b which suggests how the ancient text of Romans may speak to us today.


As I write this preface, the Society of Biblical Literature is offering a remarkable seminar entitled “Romans through History and Cultures” in which papers are presented analyzing Romans through the eyes of the Church Fathers and Mothers on the one hand and through various cultural lenses as well (e.g., in the 2001 meeting we heard a paper analyzing Romans 8 from the perspective of classical Confucianism). If anyone was prone to wonder if anything new could ever be said about the most studied and commented on document from the biblical period, this seminar shows that new light can still be shed on this enduring classic. In that spirit, it is my hope that, since a full-scale sociorhetorical commentary has not yet been attempted, there will be new light shed by what one finds in the following pages, which take that line of approach.

I do not pretend that this is the definitive work on Romans (considering the volume of literature on this book, no study could be either exhaustive or all-encompassing), but I hope it moves the conversation along in some fruitful and even in some fresh directions. One of the more surprising things I have discovered along the way is that there really has never been, since the English Reformation, a major exegetical study of Romans which intentionally takes into account Arminian and Wesleyan readings as opposed to more Augustinian/Lutheran/Calvinist readings of Romans. Discussion of Romans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was overwhelmingly shaped by the Reformed tradition, to the point that even some Lutheran scholars, such as Krister Stendahl, wondered if another line of approach might be helpful in shedding fresh light on Paul's text.

A measure of the impact of the Reformed reading of Romans is also shown by the fact that even in many Catholic circles since Vatican II the Lu-

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