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New Testament Commentary Recommendations (5)


My first attempt to preach through Romans came in 1974 when I assumed the position of interim pastor at a small Presbyterian church in Dallas. By the time I left that church in 1977 I had only made it through chapter six! I did preach through the entire book during my time at Believers Chapel in Dallas, and have subsequently taught Romans in a classroom setting on several occasions.

If one has any lingering doubts about the attention given to Romans, I encourage you to check out the bibliography in the commentary by Joseph Fitzmyer. He lists more than 500 entries which focus on Pauline themes found in Romans and more than 800 commentaries and monographs from the first century of the church to the present. This does not include what must amount to several thousand periodical (journal) articles on virtually every verse in Romans. And remember: Fitzmyer compiled this list in 1993! In the fifteen years since his commentary was published, one can only guess at the number of works that have appeared.

All this to say that I will try to limit my comments to works with which I'm personally familiar. In the end, I suspect that most pastors' libraries will be filled with more works on Romans than any other biblical book, and rightly so.

My approach will be to mention, first, the most helpful technical treatments of Romans, whether because of their interaction with the Greek text or because of their theological depth. I'll then move on to the best available works written for a popular and English-reading audience.

The first commentary everyone should purchase was written by my former colleague at Wheaton College, Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans, 1996, 1,012 pp.). This is simply the best exegetical, evangelical commentary available. Most of the more technical material involving comment on the Greek text is restricted to the footnotes. By all means, get it (no matter how much the cost).

Running a close second to Moo is the commentary by John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968, 694 pp.). D. A. Carson says that "Murray will guide you stolidly with the heavy tread of the proverbial village policemen (although with more theology; and note especially the useful appendices and notes)." Granted, Murray is sometimes wordy and his style is annoying. But I cut my theological teeth on Murray and his commentary on Romans holds a special place in my heart and head. This is Reformed, theological exegesis at its best, superseding the works of Hodge and Hendriksen. My advice: get it now, before it goes out of print. Moo's commentary has taken the place of Murray in the New International Commentary series.

Thomas Schreiner, Romans, the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker, 1998, 919 pp.), is similar in thrust, theologically speaking, to Moo's commentary, although with a slightly more Calvinistic emphasis (the volume is dedicated to John Piper). Schreiner interacts extensively with the Greek text but not in a way that makes it inaccessible to the English reader. Although not as extensive as Fitzmyer's, Schreiner provides the most up-to-date bibliography on Romans available. Highly recommended!

When I preached my way through Romans for the first time, after Murray I turned most frequently to C. E. B. Cranfield's, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols, ICC series (T. & T. Clark, 1975, 900 pp.). There is nothing quite like Cranfield when it comes to interacting with the Greek text and expounding the interpretive options of a particular verse. No serious student of Romans should be without it. It is expensive (as are all the volumes in the ICC series) but worth the price. Although it is written for the student who knows Greek, anyone can profit from its insights. A revised, one-volume paperback edition (Romans: A Shorter Commentary [Eerdmans, 1985, 388 pp.]) has been issued for those who do not wish to work through the original two-volume work.

I only mention James D. G. Dunn because of his high profile as an advocate of the New Perspective on Paul. His commentary on Romans, 2 volumes in the Word Biblical Commentary series (Word Books, 1988, 976 pp.) is certainly helpful in places. Dunn is up-to-date with all recent literature on Romans and is exhaustive in treating the Greek text. His perspective is not quite as conservative as I would prefer but he is always challenging. As noted, his view of Romans is shaped by the influence of E. P. Sanders' position on the question of Paul and the law.

There are two more semi-technical works that are worthy of mention, the first of which by Joseph A. Fitzmyer, the Jesuit scholar who also wrote the commentary on Luke for the Anchor Bible series (Doubleday, 1993, 793 pp.). I've only read selected portions of Fitzmyer but found him to be extremely good. I agree with Carson that on occasion he sounds more Reformed than Catholic on the doctrine of justification. Leon Morris has written the commentary on Romans in the Pillar series (Eerdmans, 1988, 578 pp.). Again, I've read about as much in Morris as I have in Fitzmyer. He's always solidly conservative, even if not exciting or innovative in his interpretations (not to suggest that the latter is necessarily a virtue!).

The best treatment of the most difficult chapter in Romans is found in John Piper's The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23 (Baker, 1983, 316 pp.). This is an extremely detailed exegetical treatment of this controversial chapter. Those without a working knowledge of Greek will find it hard-going at times, but perseverance pays a rich dividend.

So, when it comes to these more technical works, I would purchase, in order of preference, Moo, Murray, Schreiner, and Cranfield (and, of course, Piper on Romans 9). Now on to several works that are more popular in nature.

Moo has also written on Romans for the NIV Application series (Zondervan, 2000, 532 pp.). If one can endure the structure of this series, this is probably the best treatment of the English text on Romans.

Although less Calvinistic than Moo, I highly recommend John Stott, Romans: God's Good News for the World (IVP, 1994, 432 pp.). Stott is simply brilliant when it comes to relating the text to life. He has also written a popular treatment of Romans 5-8, Men Made New (IVP, 1966, 108 pp.). This isn't deep, but Stott always seems to find a way of expressing basic ideas in a fresh and inspiring way.

Robert Mounce, well-known for his commentary on Revelation in the NICNT series, has written on Romans for The New American Commentary series (Broadman Press, 1995, 301 pp.). This volume on Romans is less technical but successfully traces the flow of Paul's argument. It is good, but at times fails to address in depth some of the more important theological issues.

William Hendriksen, a Dutch Reformed scholar, has written a solid commentary for the English reader, Exposition of Paul's Epistle to the Romans (Baker, 1982, 533 pp.). Although the newer commentaries are more detailed and technical, I often find myself going back to see what Hendricksen said. He is conservative, reliable, and exalts the sovereignty of God's grace in salvation.

Few people these days read or refer to Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans, 1974 [1886], 458 pp.), but I really like him. Hodge is representative of the old Princeton school of Reformed theologians. Although more a theologian than an exegete, Hodge will still interact with the text. Although it is over 100 years old, Hodge's work is worth consulting when studying some of the sticky theological issues in Romans.

Of these more popular works, Moo and Stott are definitely worth getting. The others are nice to have, if you can afford them.

There are also two multi-volume sets on Romans that don't technically qualify as commentaries but more as sermon series. They are both extremely helpful to the preacher or anyone who is teaching through Romans in a Bible study or home group setting.

The first is by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. His Romans series comes in ten volumes (yes ten!) (Zondervan). Lloyd-Jones, who died in 1981, stands in the theological tradition of Hodge and Hendriksen but, unlike them, was not a cessationist. It's not unusual for him to devote two or three chapters to only two or three verses! Few people will read all ten volumes, but for passion and pastoral insight "the Doctor" is unparalleled.

I also highly recommend the four volume sermon series by James Montgomery Boice, Romans (Baker, 1993-94; Volume 1 - chps. 1-4; Volume 2 - chps. 5-8; Volume 3 - chps. 9-11; Volume 4 - chps. 12-16). Boice, long-time Senior Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in downtown Philadelphia (now deceased), writes from a Reformed (Calvinistic) perspective. Boice does not always develop the flow of argument in Romans but no theological issue is left unaddressed. His illustrations are helpful for preaching. As with Lloyd-Jones, knowledge of NT Greek is not a prerequisite for profiting from Boice's work.

I'm not recommending that the typical pastor purchase these next three volumes, but I should mention them in case you have a special interest in the areas on which they touch.

Karl Barth's, The Epistle to the Romans, transl. by Edwyn C. Hoskyns (Oxford University Press, 1972 [1919; completely re-written for a 2nd edition in 1922], should be noted more for its historical influence than its exegetical or theological insights. Barth (1886-1968) was motivated by several factors, chief of which was the obvious failure of theological liberalism in the face of the outbreak of World War I. He was especially upset when 93 German intellectuals, many of whom were his teachers or colleagues, signed a document endorsing the war policy of Kaiser Wilhelm II. He suddenly realized that "their exegetical and dogmatic presuppositions could not be in order. . . . A whole world of exegesis, ethics, dogmatics and preaching, which I had hitherto held to be essentially trustworthy, was shaken to the foundations, and with it, all the other writings of the German theologians" (Karl Barth, biography by Eberhard Busch, 81). Barth and his commentary brought to the European scene a renewed emphasis on the transcendence of God, the "absolute qualitative difference between God and man," the vertical dimension of revelation (a theology "from above," i.e., from God to us in the Bible, rather than "from below"), and an emphasis on sin and atonement.

Gerald Bray is the editor of Romans in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (IVP, 1998). This volume collects the best and most representative of patristic commentary and homily on Romans. Among those whose comments are cited include Augustine, Ambrosiaster, Origen, Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and others. The great value of this work is that it provides a glimpse into how the early church understood and applied the book of Romans.

Finally, if you are looking for a competent treatment of Romans from a decidedly Arminian perspective, you can do no better than Jack Cottrell, Romans, The College Press NIV Commentary, 2 volumes (College Press Publishing Company, 1996/1998, 1024 pp.). Cottrell, professor of theology at Cincinnati Theological Seminary, is unafraid to take on Calvinist interpreters point for point. Although he is more a theologian than an exegete, his work is worthy of close study.

On to Corinth!