Commentaries: April 2010 Archives

Commentaries on Romans

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[Note: This is part of a larger project reviewing commentaries on each book of the Bible. Follow the links from that post for more information on the series, including explanations of what I mean by some of the terms and abbreviations in this post. This is not an exhaustive list, just the commentaries that I think are most worth paying attention to.]

Douglas Moo's NICNT is always my first choice on Romans. He's more careful in my view than any other Romans commentator when it comes to exegesis. He's got a high view of scripture similar to my own, and yet he garners much more respect than others with similar convictions. I'm not entirely sure why, but N.T. Wright thinks that in his case it's because he sees Moo as (1) more willing to revise his opinions away from his Lutheran tradition than Wright thinks is true of other conservative evangelicals (e.g. D.A. Carson, a claim that I think is wildly unfair to Carson, who adopted Calvinism entirely from reading the Bible and not from reading the Reformed tradition) and (2) more able to read his opponents carefully and represent their views accurately before criticizing them. (I've seen people complain about this with Carson also, and it baffles me. He strikes me as especially careful most of the time, especially when he's doing his actual argumentation.) But whatever the reasons, Moo has this reputation among scholars who disagree with him of being balanced, careful, and friendly enough with those who disagree, and it means he has the respect of commentators across the theological spectrum.

Moo writes very readable prose for an academic volume. He gives a thorough treatment of the Greek in the footnotes but keeps the main text readable for those who know little or no Greek.is strong on theological treatment. You won't find here the kind of focus on language issues that some commentators give. You'll also get some good history of interpretation in this volume, and Moo's understanding of the theological issues is excellent. When necessary, he launches into a valuable excursus on an issue that needs more depth than the verse-by-verse discussion would give. It isn't as strong as Cranfield (see below) on presenting all the options and giving an exhaustive treatment of the reasons people have given for different views, but it's much more complete than most commentaries on that sort of thing.

Thomas Schreiner's BECNT is also good in a number of ways. I like Schreiner a lot. His book on perseverance and assurance strikes me as being pretty much right in terms of his main points, and I've appreciated his work on I Timothy 2 and in his commentary on I and II Peter and Jude. Schreiner strikes me as being very similar to Moo in many ways. Both defend Calvinist soteriology, both operate from a high view of scripture, both criticize the New Perspective, and both are generally known for defending more conservative theological views against liberalizing tendencies. Schreiner has a little less detail despite being more encumbered by technical Greek in the main text, but both are good writers who can be followed relatively easily in comparison to some of the more obscure prose academics can sometimes produce.

Some differences have to do with the series. The BECNT format makes it more paragraph-based than NICNT's verse-by-verse format (which makes it easier to read but much harder to use as a reference work). You'll see Greek font in BECNT (followed by parenthetical transliterations for the first occurrence), but you'll only see it in the footnotes of NICNT volumes. BECNT has clunky parenthetical references as opposed to NICNT's footnotes, which makes reading harder, but it looks much nicer to the eye in most other ways. But a few have to do with approach. Moo is a Lutheran who has moved in some ways toward more traditional Calvinism. Schreiner is a Reformed Baptist in the mold of John Piper (in fact he originated from Piper's own church, I believe). Moo's work has been mainly exegetical, from what I've seen, whereas Schreiner's ranges more into systematic theology and apparently biblical theology (but see below).

I've seen a few criticisms of Schreiner, though. A friend of mine thinks he's too easily drawn into answering questions of systematic theology at the expense of biblical theology (which makes me wonder what his New Testament Theology is actually like). One thing he might mean is that he thought Schreiner was too willing to read his systematic theological convictions back into the text or too willing to try to make them mean what his system would favor them meaning. This comes from someone who agrees with Schreiner's general outlook, by the way, just someone who doesn't want to push a particular text beyond what it's really about. I saw a similar criticism in a review I've read online. I haven't read enough to endorse this criticism, but I thought I'd mention it, since it does have at least two witnesses!

My own biggest criticism of Schreiner is that he adopts John Piper's view that God's pursuit of his own glory is basic to all God's motivations, and God's love is reduced to that. There are more reasonable ways of holding such a view, and Schreiner's is one of the more reasonable, but I still think he's wrong, and that approach is important in this commentary, because Schreiner finds it at the heart of Romans' theology.

On the other hand, I thought Schreiner's approach to Romans 7 was both creative and far superior to the commentators who want to restrict the passage to cover only the life of the believer or those who want it to cover only the life of the unbeliever. Schreiner argues that it's about the law rather than a certain time period in the life of anyone and that it would apply in either stage of someone's life, and I think he's right. Schreiner is also a little more concerned to step back and dwell on the overall structure and argument than Moo is, although some of this is because the BECNT format requires it more. (And I have seen one reviewer compliment Moo for doing well at that.)

What I've seen makes me place this as high enough on my list that I want to retain it in my possession and look to it second, after Moo. I haven't read it enough to say a lot more, but I've read it enough to like a lot of what I see.

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