The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary: Romans 1–8

Written by Douglas Moo Reviewed By Klyne Snodgrass

Persuading readers that yet another commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is really needed may be an impossible task, but at least one may say that Doug Moo’s commentary is a welcome addition. Like several other recent commentaries on Romans, this one will be two large volumes and will provide discussions of most of the theological and exegetical issues of the epistle. As would be expected in this series and from a NT professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, the explanation of Romans offered here is conservative and evangelical in its approach. Although granting that Romans is not a systematic theology, this volume describes itself as ‘a reassertion of the Reformers’ theology in light of current scholarship and contemporary challenges to that interpretation’.

The author has done his research well, as is evidenced by the 21 pages of helpful bibliography. Twelve major commentaries were selected as ‘sparring partners’ with whom most of the discussions take place (those by C.K. Barrett, John Calvin, C.E.B. Cranfield, James D.G. Dunn, Frederic Louis Godet, Ernst Käsemann, Otto Kuss, Otto Michel, John Murray, Anders Nygren, William Sanday and Arthur C. Headlam, and Ulrich Wilckens).

Thirty-one pages of the commentary are given over to discussion of introductory issues. After the introduction, each passage of the epistle is given an initial general treatment (usually brief), a translation by the author, a section on exegesis and exposition (the main focus of the commentary), additional notes for more technical material and, for most passages at least, one excursus on specific terms. Footnotes are kept to a minimum. First occurrences of Greek and Hebrew are translated, except for the additional notes. Little attention is given to application of the text. Seminary students and pastors will both find this commentary useful, but other resources must be used for broader theological questions and application.

Moo understands Romans to have been written about ad 57 to a mixed group of Jewish and Gentile Christians, with the majority of them being Gentile. With respect to genre, Romans is a ‘tractate letter’ with its main component being a general theological argument. Further definition of genre is viewed as ‘perilous’. With regard to the purpose of Romans, the most debated introductory issue, Moo is rather cautious. One purpose is to provide a letter of introduction for Paul to a church he hopes to add to his list of sponsors for his trip to Spain. Paul did have his eye on specific problems in Rome between Jews and Gentiles, but that is not the reason for the letter. Moo concludes that several purposes must be listed in explaining why Paul wrote this letter, including Paul’s necessity to defuse rumours about himself. Moo also warns against over-historicizing the letter so that ‘we miss the larger theological and philosophical concerns of the biblical authors’. While granting that a single theme ought not to be imposed on Romans, Moo suggests that the theme of the epistle is the gospel. In addition, he lists Christology, salvation history, the new age in the old, justification, and concern for Jews, their law and their relation to God as issues of major importance in the letter. While this list of theological concerns is legitimate, one questions whether the biblical authors focused on philosophical concerns.

The explanations offered in the commentary are clear and helpful, even though, as with any commentary, choices made in interpretation are not always convincing. Indication of some of the decisions may give insight into the approach of the commentary.

In 1:5 ‘the obedience of faith’ is understood so that both words are mutually interpreting, i.e. ‘obedience always involves faith, and faith always involves obedience’. In this way, obedience is given proper emphasis.

In 1:17 the question of whether the righteousness of God should be understood as a status given to people by God (either an objective genitive or a genitive of source) or as the saving activity of God (a subjective genitive) is resolved by accepting both. The righteousness of God is seen as equivalent to the verb ‘to justify’ and is understood as a forensic expression. It refers to righteous standing, not the infusing of moral righteousness. In this context also Moo discusses the arguments of people like Albert Schweitzer and E.P. Sanders that justification by faith is not the centre of Paul’s theology. Moo hesitates to place justification by faith at the centre of Paul’s thought, but retains it as ‘a central, driving force in Paul’s thought’. He adds that the Reformers were not far wrong in giving to justification by faith the attention they did. This is, of course, not surprising in a commentary that describes itself as a reassertion of the Reformers’ theology.

The discussion of Romans 2 is not very satisfying, but then few discussions of Romans 2 are. Moo views 2:1–16 as addressed to Jews, even though Paul does not explicitly address Jews until 2:17. His view is not impossible, but neither is it convincing. Of the possible explanations of the positive statements in chapter 2 (where eternal life is granted to those who ‘work the good’—see vv. 7, 10, 13), Moo says they refer to Gentile Christians or that the statements are not realizable. He prefers the latter and argues strangely that Paul is not speaking hypothetically, even though the promise held out in 2:7, 10 can never become operative because of human sin. Similarly, 2:14–15 are understood to say only that Gentiles do some parts of the law, but are not saved. This is in keeping with the discussion in 1:19–21 which accepts the legitimacy of natural revelation, but sees it as having only a negative result.

The discussion of the genitive expression in 3:22 (‘faith of Christ’) is interpreted as an objective genitive: faith in Christ. Many will find the arguments against the subjective genitive (‘the faithfulness of Christ’) unconvincing.

In 3:25 the debate over the meaning of the Greek word hilasterion is decided with the translation ‘new propitiatory sacrifice’. While the word almost certainly includes the idea of the removal of God’s wrath, the use of a word like ‘propitiation’ does little to foster understanding. Surely some better term can be found, and surely greater focus should be placed on the fact that it is God himself who deals with his own wrath.

One of the decisions that readers may have difficulty following is the suggestion that the ‘I’ in chapter 7 is to be understood not of Paul personally, nor of Adam, but of Israel. Moo agrees that there are autobiographical elements in the chapter, but Paul is seen as describing himself in solidarity with the experiences of Israel. As elsewhere, the author has chosen a combination of two opposing views as a solution to the debate. The understanding of Paul’s various statements about the law, especially in Romans 7, is debated and difficult, but I find the suggestion that Israel is in view in the statements made unconvincing and hard to believe.

As one reflects on the decisions made in the commentary, apart from the interpretation of chapter 7, most of the conclusions drawn are ‘traditional’. That is not a critique, but a recognition that this commentary does not provide a great deal of new insight into the letter. With all the works available on Romans, possibly that would be expecting too much. Still, this commentary will provide insight to students and pastors and merits close study. It will reward serious reading.

Klyne Snodgrass

North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL