Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary
Kittredge, Cynthia Briggs, Anglican Theological Review
Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. By Ben Witherington III, with Darlene Hyatt. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004. xxxviii + 421 pp. $36.00 (paper).
Ben Witherington treats Romans in the most recent book of his series of socio-rhetorical commentaries. The commentary includes a useful annotated bibliography of introductory guides, commentaries, rhetorical resources, articles from the SBL Romans through History and Culture Seminar, and other works. Sketching the social level and structure of Roman Christianity and mid-first-century Rome, Witherington says that Paul addresses a largely Gentile audience who are better established than the Jewish Christians. Appropriate to his rhetorical approach, Witherington urges readers to study the argument of Romans as a whole and to "hear both sides of the conversation between Paul and the Roman Christians" in its historical context (p. 16). He identifies Romans as "a deliberative discourse which uses an epistolary framework and in some ways comports with a protreptic letter."
Witherington offers a fresh translation of Romans and comments on the text. Drawing particularly on the commentaries of Dunn, Cranfield, and Barrett, Witherington also refers to A Preface to Romans by Christopher Bryan and The Story of Romans by Katherine Grieb. He explains the important literary and rhetorical parallels and addresses the relevant critical questions in a clear and accessible style. When discussing different rhetorical sections, he quotes Quintilian's description of the purpose of particular techniques. Subjects developed in more detail, such as the diatribe, covenantal nomism, topics in the history of interpretation, are set apart in the text. Following each part of the argument, in a section called "Bridging the Horizons," Witherington draws analogies between the text and contemporary questions or issues with material that would be appropriate for homiletical development. The explanations are clear and nontechnical and engage with the major authorities in Pauline exegesis. …