Romans

By Chan, Frank | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Romans


Chan, Frank, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Romans. By Grant R. Osborne. IVPNTC. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004. 447 pp., $23.00.

Grant Osborne's recent contribution in the IVP New Testament Commentary Series conveniently fills a hole in the spectrum of Romans commentaries currently available. It, like the series as a whole that Osborne edits, seeks to combine "a passion for faithful exegesis and a deep concern for the church" (p. 9). In comparison to other works that seek the same general balance, like those by John Stott (Bible Speaks Today series) and Douglas Moo (NIV Application Commentary), I would say Osborne's volume postures itself more in the scholarly-exegetical direction than in the practical-homiletical direction. In this respect, it may find a niche for pastors who want to be abreast of current scholarly opinion, yet need something more succinct than the "received" tomes in the NICNT series (also by Moo) or BECNT series (by Thomas Schreiner). Perhaps more importantly, Osborne puts forth an Arminian approach to the divine sovereignty-human responsibility tensions in Romans, a stance not well represented in a field that has become increasingly dominated by commentators with Reformed leanings.

Osborne's comments are organized not in a verse-by-verse format, but in a paragraphby-paragraph fashion, in accordance with the headings and subheadings of his analytical outline. While this may make it harder to find information on a given phrase of interest, it actually enhances the readability of the commentary; only information that unpacks the flow of Paul's argument is included.

Indeed, compactness may be the work's chief virtue. To streamline the discussion, Osborne tends to omit lengthy discussions on text-critical matters. For example, he skips over the famous subjunctive-indicative textual problem at Rom 5:1 ("let us have peace" vs. "we have peace"). Osborne also reduces "clutter" by moving extraneous material from his text to the footnotes. He believes hilasterion in Rom 3:25 should be translated "propitiation," but drops to the footnote consideration of C. H. Dodd's famous translation "expiation." This enables him to focus on expounding the view he personally holds, without getting bogged down with scholarly debate.

Where there are multiple options on a point of interpretation, Osborne is quite good at reducing the views into distinct one-sentence summaries. For good or for ill, the explanations he gives for his own choice are often just as brief. In one footnote, Osborne takes about ten sentences to give seven possible ways to explain the apparent "works righteousness" in Rom 2:7, 10 and to explain why he holds the seventh one-that Paul is speaking of Christians whose works do not bring salvation but result from salvation. It is masterful in its brevity. At other places, Osborne's writing style is a flurry of shorthand expressions that would be tortuous for a novice to follow. His discussion of the imputation of Adam's sin in Rom 5:12 and the five ways to interpret eph' ho probably should have been confined in its entirety to a footnote, where terms like "natural headship," "federal headship," and "mediate imputation" could be explained more fully and clearly. (The commentary attempts this in part, but I found the result awkward.)

Osborne's attempt to orient the reader to scholarly discussion is also pitched at a middle level. He dialogues with a number of the great commentators, but rarely with anyone prior to the twentieth century (except Godet and Calvin) or anyone whose work is not available in English. His citations are thorough, but there is no author, subject, or ancient literature index to enable more specialized digging. He shows an awareness of collateral scholarly discussions (e.g. aspect theory in Greek grammar, p. 174; the heterogeneity of first-century Judaism, p. 74), but cites such findings sparingly and only when they illuminate Romans, never for their own sake.

Osborne's only interaction with the "new perspective on Paul" is confined to footnotes where he disputes its view of "works of the law" (Rom 3:20), "observing the law" (Rom 3:28), "works" (Rom 4:4), and "own righteousness" (Rom 10:3). …

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