12 December 2008

New Testament Books for Pastors and Teachers - VI


by Ralph Martin
published: 2001-04-18
© 2001 Theologybooks.com, Wipf and Stock.
Commentaries on the pivotal epistle to the Romans as a key to Paul's theology and indeed to the New Testament teaching on salvation and salvation history come in all shapes and sizes.
Pride of place must go to Charles E. B. Cranfield's two-volume contribution to the revised ICC, though the older ICC by William Sanday and Arthur C. Headlam should in no way be disregarded. Their commentary is easier to use, and with less detail it will not tax the reader's patience and concentration; both virtues are needed to get the best out of Cranfield, who packs an amazing amount of detail into his exegesis. Every conceivable option is given, so that the reader knows what are the possibilities, both in the ancient church and among modern interpreters, before he learns how Cranfield inclines. In that sense Cranfield's Romans is a definitive work, and its objectivity is one of its foremost and finest assets. A close second is Ernst Käsemann's newly translated work, full of theological perception and marked by Teutonic Griindlichkeit. Fresh surprises await the reader at every turn, and one comes away from Käsemann with appreciation for Paul as a theologian, whether we agree with every position and argument of the commentator or not.
For practical purposes Franz J. Leenhardt's translated commentary has much to offer and is worth consulting. C. K. Barrett (Harper-Black) has put preachers in his debt with a plainly written but remarkably interesting commentary that goes to the heart of the Pauline gospel. For any preacher still unsure what that gospel was (and is), let me urge an acquaintance with Barrett's compact Reading Through Romans as a minor masterpiece, second to which is John A. T. Robinson, Wrestling with Romans, which unhappily seems to run out of steam after treating ch. 8.
Commentaries that pursue a particular tack, that have what is called today a distinctive Tendenz, would include the dated work of C. H. Dodd (Moffatt), which represents the best in the older liberal tradition (see Dodd on the "wrath of God" in Romans 1, and his dismissive attitude to Romans 9-11); and John Murray (NICNT, 2 vols.), who views Romans through the spectacles of classical Reformed theology, much in the wake of Charles Hodge's mid-nineteenth-century commentary, reprinted in 1951. Of course, you may say that the latter is no bad thing, but prospective readers ought to be aware of a commentator's penchant.
In the field of smaller works, F. F. Bruce writes the Tyndale commentary with never a wasted word, and Handley C. G. Moule has given us two efforts in expounding the text of the epistle: a treatment of the Greek text (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges) that is excellent, and a more devotional exposition in The Expositor's Bible. Brief comments on the text are found in A. M. Hunter's Torch edition and Ernest F. Scott's commentary. Special mention ought to be made of Matthew Black in NCB for two striking features: pointed comments on the text, and a remarkably full bibliography of recent work on Romans (up to 1973).
Karl Barth's The Epistle to the Romans (1922 ed.) is of course a classic. This book is the one that dropped like a bomb in the theologians' playground; but his A Shorter Commentary on Romans (1919) is very serviceable for getting to the nub of Barthian exegesis. From a strictly theological stance nothing is better than Anders Nygren's commentary, even if it fails as a verse-by-verse exposition. In the same tradition of Lutheran scholarship is the more succinct treatment by Roy A. Harrisville.
There are still other more devotionally and homiletically oriented books on Romans; we will mention John R. W. Stott's Men Made New (on Romans 5-8) and Earl F. Palmer's Salvation by Surprise (with useful study questions appended). To shed light on a dark place (Romans 9-11) there is nothing more illuminating than Christ and Israel by Johannes Munck.
The list of foreign-language commentaries is headed by Otto Michel (MeyerK series) and Hans Lietzmann (HzNT), the former exegeting the text with great thoroughness, the latter offering pithy comments. A volume with more detailed scope and theological penetration is Ulrich Wilckens in the EKK series, designed with European clergy, both Catholic and Protestant, in mind.
RECOMMENDATION: Cranfield is a clear leader for sound and sober exegesis, but you cannot go wrong with Barrett (Harper-Black). The two titles complement each other and often disagree on points of detail.

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