New Testament Commentary Reviews: Romans

Open Bible and Commentaries on Romans

Thousands of commentaries have been written about the Bible, and it’s easy to become confused because these resources are written to various audiences. Choosing the “best” will depend upon the kind of analysis you desire. Commentaries are often divided into three categories:

  • Devotional/Introductory–the primary focus is application of the Word and growing in Christ. Lots of “how to” questions are answered.

  • Pastoral/Intermediate–these commentaries also contain application but are more information oriented. Some go deep into the history or cultural background of the text, while others pay more attention to linguistics. Lots of “what does it mean” questions are answered. Useful for any Christ follower and especially helpful to those who teach.

  • Technical/Advanced–primary value is to teachers and advanced students. Some technical commentaries focus on textual criticism (the reliability of the text), while others address linguistics (the text itself). Lots of minutiae. These commentaries contain Greek text (sometimes transliterated, sometimes not) and require familiarity with Koine Greek to extract their full benefit, but even those with no knowledge of Greek will find these commentaries useful.

My recommendations identify which category each book falls into. Some commentaries overlap; when they do, both categories will be noted (e.g., Pastoral/Technical). The recommendations are listed in order of their helpfulness to Bible students, teachers, and pastors.

Romans

Paul’s letter to the churches of Rome is theologically complex, and many commentaries have expounded on it, but I’ve only found a few that I can recommend without reservation. Below are five of the most helpful.

  • The first book I reach for when studying Romans is by Doug Moo in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1996). Technical/Pastoral. This commentary just celebrated its twenty-first birthday, and it’s still the best all-around resource on Paul’s letter. Moo’s theology is Reformed, but even those who aren’t in that camp will find his reasoning cogent and his arguments solid. Moo is fair in his representation of alternate viewpoints, but he leaves no doubt about where stands and why. His exegesis of 7:7–25 is a good example. He discusses the four most common identifications of the ego (“I”) in the passage: the autobiographical identification, the Adamic identification, the Israel identification, and the existential identification. He then presents his case for a combination of the autobiographical/Israel identifications. Familiarity with Greek will enhance the NIC’s value, but this commentary is not overly technical. Students looking for more help with the Greek text might consider pairing Moo’s NIC with Cranfield’s ICC volumes.

  • Another excellent all-around commentary is by Thomas Schreiner in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker, 1998). Technical/Pastoral. Schreiner, like Moo, comes from the Reformed tradition, and since their theology is similar, I’m tempted to say, “Choose one and skip the other,” but Schreiner compliments Moo well, and I recommend using them side by side. The BEC format looks at the text in sections rather than verse by verse, and this can be frustrating for students who are seeking information on a particular verse, but studying a verse in its context is helpful. The intro is brief (27pp) and not very useful, but Schreiner’s balanced exegesis makes up for it. Highly recommended.

  • My third recommendation is by Colin Kruse in the Pillar New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 2012). Pastoral. More accessible and less technical than Moo and Schreiner. The introduction is short (33pp) and covers the usual topics (author, date, etc.). Kruse touches on the New Perspective and engages with Sanders, but the discussion has evolved since then. What I like most is Kruse’s lucidity and conciseness. Romans is incredibly complex, and Kruse’s verse by verse explanation is a model of clarity. He lays out the popular views (lots of dialogue with Moo, Schreiner, Cranfield, Jewett, and Dunn) along with his own. I also like how the book is formatted to allow Kruse to expand his comments on key areas (he calls them “additional notes”) without interfering with his exegesis. Scholars will gravitate toward the more technical analyses of Romans, but those charged with teaching God’s Word will find this commentary invaluable.

  • Another commentary worth considering is by Craig Keener in The New Covenant Commentary (Wipf & Stock Pub., 2009). Pastoral. Don’t be deceived by the slimness of this commentary. It has depth despite its brevity, and busy pastors and teachers will love it. Keener quickly gets to the meat of each pericope, and his excursuses are very helpful (e.g., his comparison/contrast of ancient and modern views on homosexuality in chapter one). If you value clarity and conciseness, there’s a lot to like here.

  • Students proficient in Greek will appreciate the two-volume commentary by C.E.B. Cranfield in the International Critical Commentary (T&T Clark, 1975). Technical. This is widely regarded as the most thorough commentary on the Greek text. Amazing grammatical exegesis. Cranfield’s neo-orthodox mindset, however, leaves much to be desired, and his theology should be read with discernment. But those who can separate the wheat from the chaff will be left with a powerful tool.

    Lagniappe: There is also an abridged edition of this commentary–bypass it and go with the two-volume set.

Did I miss a commentary you are interested in? Drop me a line. These are not the only resources I am familiar with–these are just my favorites.

Next: Recommended commentaries on 1 Corinthians.

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