Reading Romans Theologically: A Review Article

By Schreiner, Thomas R. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, December 1998 | Go to article overview

Reading Romans Theologically: A Review Article


Schreiner, Thomas R., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


THOMAS R. SCHREINER*

Major commentaries on various books of the Bible have been appearing at a dizzying pace in recent years. I have also been struck by the increasing length of such commentaries. W. D. Davies and Dale Allison are writing a three-volume commentary on Matthew for the ICC series. John Nolland composed a three-volume commentary on Luke (WBC). Raymond Brown's work on the epistles of John (AB) is 812 pages long and includes a great deal of small print. The length and depth of so many of the commentaries make them less useful and more expensive for the busy pastor or interested layperson. Perhaps scholars are mainly writing commentaries for other scholars. I for one would like to see a return to the standard that Calvin set in commentary writing: brevity and clarity.1 A commentary should be abreast of modern scholarship, but it should not delve into the details of the text to such an extent that the clarity of the commentary is compromised and the work becomes burdensome for the reader.

A significant new commentary has appeared on the scene with the publication of Douglas Moo's work on Romans.2 Moo has written a replacement volume for John Murray's earlier NICNT two-volume work. An aside about Moo's commentary is necessary here. He wrote an earlier volume on Romans 1-8 (Chicago: Moody, 1991). Moody Press, however, dropped its Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary series, and thus Moo could not complete his work on Romans for Moody and proceeded to send it to Eerdmans. The Wycliffe commentary was a Greek-text commentary, whereas the NICNT explains the English text. Of course Moo's exegesis in both cases represents a careful interpretation of the original text. In the present series, however, the Greek is explained in the footnotes. Stylistic and format changes mark the new edition, along with the updating of the bibliography. But as Moo himself says, "I made few substantive changes" (p. viii).

The reader may think that Moo has transgressed the ideal of brevity since his commentary exceeds a thousand pages. In this instance, however, such a judgment would be mistaken. Romans is the meatiest of Paul's letters and deserves more extended reflection. Moreover the volume is extensively footnoted, and thus the pressed pastor or reader could confine himself or herself to the text (though there is a gold mine of research and wisdom in the footnotes), which I would roughly estimate to be about six hundred pages. The exposition of the text is also remarkably clear. The volume contains a brief introduction, and each section is introduced by a summary of its contents followed by verse-by-verse exegesis. Moo interacts extensively with other views, and yet he presents the material in such an organized fashion that the reader is not lost in a welter of opinions. The interpretation preferred by Moo is invariably defended with evidence and argumentation so that the reader not only knows what view Moo prefers but also why he opts for one interpretation rather than another.

Comparing Moo to some recent English commentaries on Romans may help us understand his distinctive contribution.3 Perhaps it is appropriate to begin with Murray.4 Readers would make a great mistake to ignore Murray's work, for in my own forthcoming commentary on Romans I often found Murray to be remarkably helpful.5 He does not slavishly repeat the views of commentators who precede him. He interacts in a fresh and dynamic way with the text. Indeed, Murray's theological depth makes his commentary one of the most practical for pastors.

But more than thirty years have passed since his work appeared, and thus a fresh appraisal of Romans is needed in light of modern scholarship. For instance, more and more scholars are persuaded that Romans was addressed to specific circumstances in Rome, a view that has become increasingly popular since Murray's day. 6 Moo agrees-correctly, in my judgment-that Romans was addressed to specific circumstances in Rome, where Jews and Gentiles were suffering tensions. …

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