Review of a few Romans commentaries

Jayson Byrd   -  

As I was reading portions of three commentaries on Romans (following the exact Biblical text and rotating between the commentaries), I was surprised that my opinion of which one I liked best. I expected Shriner (Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary) or Moo (Romans NICOT) to be one of the preferential commentaries. However, as reading back and forth went along, I found Colin Kruse’s “Paul’s Letter to the Romans” (The Pillar New Testament Commentary Series) became like reading a travel companion through Romans.

Like other commentaries, Kruse’s work goes section by section through the text giving exegetical and interpretive comments. The English text used is the NIV, which is a good text but less preferential due to translation philosophy. This presumably is due to the nature of the series and the relationship of Eerdmans with Zondervan more than Kruse’s choice. Shreiner’s commentary, on the other hand, contained his own translation of the text. Not only is this unique but also beneficial as it forces the focus more on the text itself than on the commentary portion. As with any commentary, there are strengths and weaknesses of Kruse’s. Yet, in a way, the strengths and weaknesses in this commentary seemed to go hand in hand.

As a weakness, Kruse’s conclusions and positions are less direct and not straightforward. This led to a lack of clarity in reading, and I often found myself asking what his position was. This is mainly a result of his tendency to give many options of views for various issues without firmly stating his position and reasons for so. Sometimes he does, but with so much going on in the commentary notes, it is difficult to discern. I found this at times leaving me with tons of information on various positions, but unclear on which was the correct position or, more importantly, what the meaning of the text at hand is. This weakness is more obvious when contrasting Kruse’s commentary with Schreiner’s, for example. Schreiner’s conclusions are much more straightforward and easier to follow. This also leads to Schreiner being quoted more often, even by Kruse.

Conversely, this weakness of Kruse also leads to his commentary’s strength. That strength is that he gives a substantial amount of data surveying various views available with each given passage. In this way, he serves as a guide of “what are people saying about this text?” giving the most prevalent with their rationale and conclusions. He also gives occasional nuggets of application that are very helpful, as well as some very succinct definitions and clarifications.

The part of his commentary I found most helpful was his dealing with homosexuality in chapter one of Romans. In that section, Kruse surveyed the prevalent interpretations. This was enlightening as he reviewed how various interpretations are offered and how they read (or misread) the text to support homosexuality and same-sex “marriage.” This, I’m sure, will be a useful tool at some point. This was helpful in getting an idea of where these views are coming from while also giving textual elements to refute.

Another part of the commentary that was helpful was his explanation of the various positions on Phebe in chapter 16 of Romans. While his comments didn’t resolve the debate or even give his opinion or positions one way or another, it was interesting to see the various positions and the nuggets from church history brought out by Kruse.

While the commentary was helpful, overall, the most beneficial aspect of Kruse’s commentary to me was found in his “Additional Notes.” These essays on various topics the text brought up served as relevant excursuses and often are the practical point of application or objection that would arise practically. Other commentaries in the reading list have these also; most notably, Moo has several that are quite valuable. However, Kruse, by far, offers more of these in a concise and practical way.

A few of those “Additional Notes” should be highlighted. The Righteousness of God is a dominant theme of Romans. In the excursus, Kruse concisely gives the five different aspects of the righteousness of God in Romans; those are distributive Justice, covenant faithfulness, saving action, and a gift that leads to righteousness of life. A synthesis of these is given in that they are all under the common denominator of “God acting in accordance with his own nature for the sake of his name.” This is an expansion and unpacking of Kruse’s previous comments in dealing with the text, where he said that “the righteousness of God is his saving action whereby he brings people into a right relationship with himself” (p.71).

Other highlightable excurses are on the wrath of God and natural theology. In the excursus pertaining to the conscience, I found Kruse’s definition and explanation to be one of the best I’ve read on the subject. It distinguished conscience from the voice of God and moral law as well as from the stoic concept of conscience. Understanding the nature of conscience is crucial to many very practical areas of application.

Overall, Colin Kruse’s “Paul’s Letter to the Romans” in The Pillar New Testament Commentary Series is a recommended guide through Romans, a gift to the church and our study of this important epistle. It’s not as technical as Moo or Shriner, which can be good, yet it seems to give a bit more application and options by way of introducing us to various views. I look forward to referencing it often in the years to come.