Commentary on Romans

Commentary on Romans

by David G. Peterson


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780805496222
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/01/2017
Series: Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation Series
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.60(d)
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

David G. Peterson (Ph.D. University of Manchester) is Emeritus Faculty Member at Moore Theological College in Sydney. Previously, he served as principal of Oak Hill College, London, from 1996 to 2007. He is an ordained minister of the Anglican Church of Australia, and has served in churches in the dioceses of Sydney, Chester, and London. His many books include Engaging with God (IVP, 1992), Possessed by God in New Studies in Biblical Theology (IVP, 2001), The Acts of the Apostles in the Pillar New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 2009), and Transformed by God (IVP, 2012).

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Romans is sometimes treated as a compendium of Pauline theology or as a theological treatise on a particular theme or selection of topics. However, although it is the longest and theologically most dense Pauline writing we have, it begins and ends as a letter addressed to first-century Christians in the capital of the Roman Empire (1:1–15; 15:14–16:27).

Some scholars have argued that all or part of chapters 15 and 16 were later additions to Paul's work. Most obviously, the doxologyfound at 16:25–27 in some of the best and earliest witnesses is either missing or placed after 14:23 or 15:33. Textual and literary issues combine to raise serious questions about the transmission history of these concluding chapters. However, Gamble has convincingly argued that the sixteen-chapter version was original and that the final chapter exhibits the epistolary features and conventions of a typical Pauline letter. Gamble accounts for the existence of shorter forms of Romans in some manuscripts as evidence of later attempts "to convert the letter from a specific communication to a particular community into a document suitable for a wider and general audience."

Many believers in Rome are mentioned by name in 16:3–15, even though the apostle had not yet visited that city. Most were known to him from previous ministry contexts. Some could have sent him details about theological and pastoral issues that needed to be addressed in the Roman situation. Whatever the source of his local knowledge, it is important to identify the aspects of Paul's argument that may have been specifically included in the letter for the benefit of the original recipients.

A. The Epistolary Framework

In his opening salutation (1:1–7), the apostle does not address the recipients as "the church of God at Rome" (cf. 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1) or as "the churches of Rome" (cf. Gal 1:2) but as those "who are also called by Jesus Christ" and as those who are "in Rome, loved by God, called as saints" (1:6–7; cf. Phil 1:1; Col 1:2). Right from the start, he is concerned to portray them as part of the wider movement among the nations that God is establishing through the preaching of the gospel about his Son. Paul's own calling to be an apostle is clearly linked to the progress of this gospel, as he works "to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the Gentiles" (1:5).

Three critical issues are raised in this greeting and then developed in the body of the letter: the centrality of the gospel to what God is doing in the world, Jesus Christ and what God has accomplished through him as the focus of the gospel, and Paul's God-given role in the exposition and propagation of this gospel.

In the introductory thanksgiving (1:8–12) Paul identifies the particular significance of the Roman Christians within this wider movement when he records his gratitude to God that news of their faith is impacting people "in all the world" (1:8). Then he reveals how he regularly prays for them and asks that God would make it possible for him to visit them (1:9–10). His immediate concern is, "so I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is, to be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine" (1:11–12).

Fee observes that a letter in antiquity was meant to serve as "a second-best substitute for a personal visit." The "spiritual gift" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) Paul has in mind is not some "gifting" by the Spirit, as in 1 Cor 12:8–10 and Rom 12:6–8, but

his understanding of the gospel that in Christ Jesus God has created from Jews and Gentiles one people for himself, apart from Torah. This is the way they are to be "strengthened" by Paul's coming, and this surely is the "fruit" he wants to have among them when he comes (v. 13). If so, then in effect our present letter functions as his "Spirit gifting" for them. This is what he would impart if he were there in person: this is what he now "shares" since he cannot presently come to Rome.

In the formal beginning to the argument of the letter (1:13–17), Paul reiterates his desire to visit the Romans and to have "a fruitful ministry" among them. His plan is once again set within the context of his wider commitment: "I am obligated both to Greeks and barbarians, both to the wise and the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome" (1:14–15). In what turns out to be a theme sentence introducing the argument to follow, Paul goes on to describe the gospel as "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek," and summarizes its message in terms of the revelation of the righteousness of God "from faith to faith" (1:16–17).

In the closing sections of the letter, the apostle returns to the theme of his commission to preach the gospel to the nations. He first attributes his writing to the Romans to the grace given to him by God "to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, serving as a priest of the gospel of God" (15:14–16). This last expression is explained by saying that the aim of his ministry is "that the Gentiles may be an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit." Paul acts as a "priest" with the gospel when he enables people everywhere to present their bodies "as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God," which he describes as (lit.) "your understanding service" (12:1, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). His ministry makes possible "the obedience of faith" (1:5; 16:26), which involves obeying the call to believe in Christ (10:8–13, 16) and offering the obedient service that is the appropriate outcome of this faith.

When Paul speaks again of his long-standing desire to visit the Romans, he announces his intention to see them before moving on to Spain (15:22–24). But he first wants to visit Jerusalem to deliver the collection from the Gentile churches he founded for "the poor among the saints" in that city (15:25–29). So he appeals to the Roman Christians to pray with him, "that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, and that, by God's will, I may come to you with joy and be refreshed together with you" (15:31–32).

There is a degree of symmetry in the epistolary framework, as Paul seeks to inform his readers about his plans and involve them in the task given to him by God:

Paul's apostleship to the Paul's apostleship to the Nations (1:1–7) nations (15:14–21)

Paul's longing to visit Paul's longing to visit the Romans (1:8–15) the Romans (15:22–33)

In the final chapter Paul commends Phoebe as the bearer of the letter (16:1–2), greets various acquaintances at Rome (16:3–16), warns his readers about "those who create divisions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned" (16:17–19), and concludes with a grace benediction, further greetings, and a doxology (16:20–27). The greetings in vv. 3–16 reveal important details about the background and present situation of twenty-six Christians in the city and identify two particular households (vv. 10b, 11b) and various other groups of unnamed believers (vv. 14b, 15d). Far from being incidental to Paul's purpose, this chapter raises important questions about the nature of his argument in the body of the letter and its relevance to the situation of the original recipients.

B. The Body of the Letter

Within the body of the letter, there is a lengthy and sustained theological argument (1:16–11:36) before Paul turns to exhortation(12:1–15:13). Moo observes that the argument develops according to the inner logic of Paul's own teaching: "even the questions and objections that periodically interrupt the argument arise naturally from the flow of Paul's presentation." Moo concludes that the issues addressed here are so general as to be applicable to any group of Christians, but this view will be challenged below.

Most obviously Paul expounds the gospel he outlines in 1:3–4, 16–17, drawing out the implications for believers (1:18–32; 3:21–26; 5:1–11; 6:1–23; 8:1–39; 12:1–13:14). He wants all his readers to enjoy all the life-changing benefits of Christ's saving work. Alternating with his exposition of the gospel and its implications, there are reflections on matters relating to the law and God's purpose for Israel: circumcision and the written code, faith and works, the covenant with Abraham and his offspring, the process of election and the blessing of the nations, food and Sabbath laws (2:1–3:20; 3:37–4:25; 5:12–21; 7:1–25; 9–11; 14:1–15:7). More will be said about this in the discussion of the letter's structure below. At this point, it is sufficient to note that Paul regularly pauses in his exposition of the gospel to address specifically Jewish concerns using a more defensive, argumentative style.

Among Paul's extant letters, only in Galatians is there comparable attention to such matters. Galatians is widely considered to be challenging the teaching and influence of Judaizers in the churches founded on Paul's first missionary journey. The larger-scale development of similar issues in Romans, sometimes using the rhetorical device of arguing with a Jewish opponent, is not simply a logical development of Paul's gospel. Romans was not written for the same reason as Galatians, but Paul clearly considered a treatment of these questions important for the recipients of this letter.

The hortatory section begins in a general way (12:1–13:14) but moves to issues more specifically related to the situation of the Roman Christians (14:1–15:13). Some have denied this, but I will develop this point below. The climax of the section is the challenge to live in harmony with one another, each one seeking to "please his neighbor for his good, to build him up" (15:1–2). Christ himself is the inspiration for this pattern of behavior since he became "a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God's truth, to confirm the promises to the fathers, and so that Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy" (15:8–9). The salvation-historical nature of Paul's argument in this section specifically recalls the long section in chapters 9–11 about Jews and Gentiles being blessed together in the purpose of God. This in turn is a development of certain arguments in chapters 1–8. So Jew-Gentile questions are significant for a consideration of Paul's purpose in writing both the doctrinal and hortatory sections of this letter.

A further observation is significant for understanding Paul's rhetorical strategy in this letter. In 1:2 he announces that the gospel was promised long ago by God "through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures." Although there are biblical allusions throughout Romans, Paul mostly cites only biblical texts in the defensive sections. He assumes readers will recognize the authority of these texts and the significance of his references. His aim is to ground his gospel in God's revelation given to Israel and to convince his Christian readers that "whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures" (15:4).

The doxology in 16:25–26 relates Paul's proclamation of Jesus Christ to "the revelation of the mystery kept silent for long ages, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic Scriptures, according to the command of the eternal God to advance the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles." The gospel fulfills what the prophets foretold, but there was an element of mystery about what was promised in the OT that Paul needed to disclose and explain in his preaching and writing (cf. Eph 3:1–13; Col 1:24–28).


Structure and Argument

How may we discern the structure of Romans? Are the sections and subsections of the letter to be determined "by subject matter, by the epistolary and rhetorical conventions reflected in the materials, or by some combination of these two approaches?"

A. Thematic Approaches

Many modern commentators pursue a broadly thematic approach and see four main divisions in the argument. For example, Moo rightly separates the epistolary framework from the body of the letter and views it as essentially an exposition of the gospel and its implications. Schreiner's headings more closely associate the opening and closing sections with the body of the letter and highlight God's righteousness as the main theme throughout. Inside the epistolary framework he identifies five major divisions:

1:1–17 The gospel as the revelation of God's righteousness

1:18–3:20 God's righteousness in his wrath against sinners

3:21–4:25 The saving righteousness of God

5:1–8:39 Hope as a result of righteousness by faith

9:1–11:36 God's righteousness to Israel and the Gentiles

12:1–15:13 God's righteousness in everyday life

15:14–16:23 The extension of God's righteousness through the Pauline mission

16:25–27 Final summary of the gospel of God's righteousness

B. Rhetorical and Epistolary Studies

Another approach involves comparing the letter with patterns of Greco-Roman oral, rhetorical, and epistolary conventions, which would have been familiar to Paul and his first-century addressees. For example, Longenecker examines oral patterning in Romans, and evaluates various forms of rhetorical analysis that have been applied to the letter. He follows Aune in arguing that the central section of Romans is an example of "protreptic speech," which was the primary rhetorical tool used by philosophic writers "to attract adherents by exposing the errors of alternate ways of living and demonstrating the truth claims of a particular philosophical tradition over its competitors."

Some have classified Romans as "a letter of introduction," even as an "ambassadorial letter of self-introduction," though Longenecker disputes the adequacy of this approach. He argues that it is much more like an ancient "letter essay," that is, "instructional material set within an epistolary frame." Epistolary conventions appear in the opening and closing sections but only occasionally in the body of the letter.

Longenecker provides important insights into the way the opening and closing sections of the letter function, and about the way the body of the letter is introduced. But there is more to be revealed about the structure and flow of the argument here and in the "protreptic" heart of the letter. In particular, I do not think he has justified his claim that the material in 1:16–4:25 represents matters on which Paul and the Roman Christians were in agreement or that "the material of 5–8 should be viewed as expressing the focus of what Paul writes in Romans."

C. A New Approach

I want to propose a different structure, drawing on insights from a variety of studies and majoring on four important literary factors: alternation, refrain, progression/digression, and recursion.

1. Alternation

In the body of the letter, Paul systematically alternates between two distinct types of material. In one strand he confirms or establishes his gospel and its implications for salvation and the transformation of believers. He focuses on Jesus's death and resurrection and the need for "the obedience of faith" without distinguishing between Jews and Gentiles. In the other strand he defends his gospel in the face of objections arising from the priority of Israel in God's plan, addressing the particular concerns of first-century Jews: their Scriptures, their pattern of interpretation, their self-understanding, and their traditions.

Tobin similarly distinguishes the sections of Romans that read like expositions or explanations from those that are marked by "various rhetorical devices that create a much livelier, more engaged, and argumentative tone." Apart from style and tone, Tobin notes that the expository sections characteristically "draw on and develop traditional cultic language and imagery about Christ's death as sacrifice" (3:25; 5:8–9; 8:3) but mostly do not quote from the Jewish Scriptures. In contrast the argumentative sections are marked by extensive use of Scripture.

Using the language of Phil 1:7, we may say that Paul is engaged in "the defense ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and confirmation ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of the gospel." The second noun refers to the "process of establishing or confirming something, confirmation, validation" (BDAG). Paul uses the cognate verb in Rom 15:8 for Jesus's validation of promises made to the patriarchs of Israel. In the sections of the letter where the gospel is expounded, he confirms or establishes it by demonstrating its coherence and efficacy. In the apologetic sections he responds to charges made against his gospel and shows how his message is consistent with the Scriptures of Israel.


Excerpted from "Commentary on Romance"
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Copyright © 2017 David G. Peterson.
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Table of Contents

General Editors' Preface,
List of Abbreviations,
I. Character,
II. Structure and Argument,
III. Purpose,
IV. Continuing Relevance,
V. Outline,
Biblical and Theological Themes,
Select Bibliography,
Name Index,
Subject Index,
Scripture Index,
Extrabiblical Sources Index,

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