Michael J. Gorman, Romans: A Theological and Pastoral Commentary

Gorman, Michael J. Romans: A Theological and Pastoral Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2022. xxiii+325 pp. Hb; $39.99.   Link to Eerdmans  

Gorman explains in his preface that the subtitle to his new Romans commentary, “a theological and pastoral commentary,” means he engages Romans as Christian Scripture. His goal is to consider the spiritual and practical application of Paul’s theology as presented in Romans in a contemporary Christian context. This does not imply Gorman ignores Paul’s message to the original audience because Paul is a pastoral theologian. In fact, he states several times in the book, “if John is the Gospel of Life, Romans is the epistle of life” (50).

Gorman, Romans commentaryThe book has two introductory chapters. First, Introducing Paul (3-20) draws heavily on Gorman’s Apostle of the Crucified Lord (second edition; Eerdmans, 2016, reviewed here). Gorman surveys various approaches to Paul (the New Perspective on Paul, narrative- intertextual approaches, anti-imperial, apocalyptic, etc.  Gorman identifies himself as a participationist, which is not at all surprising if anyone has read his earlier work on Paul. See, for example, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission (Eerdmans, 2016, reviewed here). Paul emphasizes the believer’s status as “in Christ (Romans 6:11; 8;1; 12:5) as opposed to “in Adam.” Faith transfers one from being “outside Christ” to being “inside Christ,” that is, inside his body, the ekklesia. The chapter includes a brief sketch of Paul’s life and a survey of Paul’s theology.

Second, Introducing Romans (21-56) covers the usual things expected in an introduction to Romans. For the most part, Gorman does not stray far from the consensus on issues of date and provenance. Regarding the circumstances which led to the writing of the letter, there are several issues on Paul’s mind, but the key is that the gentiles have developed an independent spirit, even a spiritual superiority complex. He suggests Romans could be considered an extended commentary on 2 Corinthians 5: 14- 21. He is clear: the gospel is not a set of propositions, but a dynamic, life-changing force in the world. It is “the power of God for salvation” (30). For Gorman, Romans is a letter about Spirit-enabled participation and transformation in Christ, and thus in the mission of God in the world.

Unlike many recent commentaries on Romans, Gorman does not interact much with other scholarship. As he explains, “this commentary comments on the text, not on other commentaries” (xviii). He intentionally treats the English text using the NRSV (although with comparison to other modern translations and occasionally his own).

Gorman divides Romans into several major units:

  • 1:1–17 Opening and Theme: The Gospel of God’s Son, Power, and Justice for the Salvation of All
  • 1:18–4:25 God’s Faithful, Merciful, and Just Response to Human Sin
  • 5:1–8:39 The Character of Justification by Faith: Righteousness and Reconciliation; Liberation and Life
  • 9:1–11:36 God’s Faithfulness and Mercy and the Future of Israel
  • 12:1–15:13 Faithful Living before the Faithful God: Cruciform Holiness and Hospitality
  • 15:14–33 Paul’s Mission and God’s Plan
  • 16:1–27 Closing

Each major section is further divided into “discourse units.” Gorman’s commentary is not exegetical nor word-for-word (it is not that kind of commentary). Certainly, he has done the exegesis and read the secondary literature, but that is all in the background. Instead, he discusses the theological and practical ramifications of the text. Gorman grounds his commentary in Paul’s concerns and draws out the implication for Christian spiritual growth in a contemporary context.

Let me offer one example based on his commentary on Romans 13:1-7. First, he entitles this unit “a nonrevolutionary but subversive community.” He briefly sketches the situation of the house churches in Rome. Opposition to the believers arose during synagogue disputes, resulting in Claudius’s expulsion of Jews from Rome. This was a political act designed to break up a potential political threat. Jewish messianic expectation was anti-oppressor and therefore anti-Roman, since Rome was the ultimate oppressor of God’s people. Although Romans 13 is often labeled conservative, even pro-Roman (especially compared to Revelation 13), Gorman points out that the gospel Paul proclaims is inherently anti-imperial: Jesus and Caesar cannot both rule the universe. This means “the gospel Paul proclaims cannot in any way a spouse blind nationalism, hyper patriotism, or an uncritical stance toward political authorities” (254). Although he does not name names at this point in the book, Gorman applies this to the use of Romans 13:1-7 by then attorney general Jeff Sessions and White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders in the context of separating children and parents at the border. “Rather than being a blanket call to obedience and allegiance, which is reserved for God alone, Romans 13:1-7—when read in context—actually supports Christian opposition to many laws and practices. The Christian is free from the tyranny of obedience to political figures and entities but obligated to love and to work for the common good, even when doing so is an act of disobedience” (257).

Gorman supplements the commentary with helpful charts. For example, in order to illustrate the close connection between justification and sanctification, Gorman compares Galatians 2:15-21 (justification) and Romans 6:1-7:6 (baptism). “Justification is like baptism, and vice versa. More precisely, justification and baptism are two sides of the one coin of entrance into Christ and his body through dying and rising with him… it is difficult to imagine a more appropriate image for thoroughgoing participation than the liquid metaphor of immersion” (167-68). He summarizes the people in Romans 16 in a chart. (Phoebe is a gentile woman who is almost certainly the letter bearer and quite probably its interpreter. Junia is a female, prominent apostle).

The first two chapters and each major unit of the commentary conclude with reflections and questions. These are divided into two categories: “spiritual, pastoral, and theological reflections, and “questions for those who read, teach, and preach.” None of these are softball questions! The questions should tease out additional implications from the text and take the reader to an application beyond Paul’s original context. A surprising example is the use of Romans 14-15 to discuss a Christian approach to eating. Gorman asks the reader to consider a justice dimension to food production and food consumption. Gorman sees both as having a spiritual dimension. For those teaching Romans in a classroom, these questions would make for excellent student papers. For those preaching Romans in a local church, these questions are hints for pastoral applications which will resonate with people as they grapple with the text of Romans.

Following these questions for reflection is “for further reading.” In the introductory chapters, these are divided into “highly accessible commentaries and books,” midlevel commentaries and books,” and “technical commentaries and books.” These bibliographies will be helpful for students who wish to work more deeply on the book of Romans.

Conclusion. Gorman’s commentary on Romans is a pleasure to read and will serve pastors and teachers well as they prepare to present Paul’s dense theology to their congregations. If you are planning to preach through the book of Romans, buy this commentary.


NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

A New English Translation of Strack and Billerbeck, Commentary on the Talmud, Volume 2, ed. and trans. by Jacob N. Cerone

Strack, Hermann L. and Paul Billerbeck, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud & Midrash, Volume 2. Edited and translated by Jacob N. Cerone. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2022. xlii+981 pp.; Hb.  $64.99; Logos Digital edition $57.99  Link to Lexham Press

Originally published between 1922 and 1928 as Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch, Lexham Academic is publishing Strack and Billerbeck in English for the first time. Originally over 4000 pages in four-volumes, volume 1 of the original work covered just the Gospel of Matthew, volume 2 covered Mark through Acts and volume 3 covers Romans through Revelation. For a variety of reasons, Lexham published the third volume first in both print and digital, Logos Library format. There is currently no plan to publish volume 4.

Strack and BillerbeckThe second volume was translated and edited by Jacob N. Cerone, a doctoral candidate at the Friedrich-Alexander University at Erlangen-Nuremberg. He edited and translated Jorg Frye, Qumran, Judaism, and New Testament Interpretation (WUNT 2/424; Mohr Siebeck, 2919). He recently published Daily Scriptures: 365 Readings in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin (Eerdmans 2021) and is the editor and translator of Adolf von Harnack, The Letter of the Roman Church to the Corinthian Church from the Era of Domitian: 1 Clement (Pickwick, 2021).

For my comments on the importance of Strack and Billerbeck for biblical studies, see my review of volume 3 (published November 17, 2021).  In his introduction, David Instone-Brewer says, “For scholars studying a passage in the New Testament, Strack-Billerbeck provides an unparalleled introduction to useful background material from the rabbinic world” (xxxvi).

Volume 2 covers the gospels of Mark, Luke and John and the Book of Acts. There are three levels of commentary. Scripture is printed in the largest font, Old Testament and Septuagint in a slightly smaller font, and Jewish literature in the smallest font. Not all entries have all three levels. Compared to Matthew (about 1000 pages), the commentary on Mark is minimal at 61 pages, with very little on the Olivet Discourse (presumably because volume one covered the material). Luke is about 288 pages, John is about 323 pages, and Acts is only 211 pages.

As an example, I selected Luke 1:69. The first level of commentary prints the verse, “he raised up the horn of salvation.” The second level gives the Greek κέρας σωτηρίας and Hebrew וְקֶֽרֶן־יִ֝שְׁעִ֗י from Psalm 18:3 (English 18:2) with the explanation that horn was a common symbol of power in the Old Testament. The third level commentary is a page of Jewish sources: Mekhilta Exodus 15:14 and Midrash Psalms 75, both fully translated. At the end of the first paragraph are several parallel passages. The Midrash on Psalm 75 lists ten horns God has given to the Israelites, beginning with the Abraham (who is the horn in the vineyard of the Lord in Isaiah 5:1 in this midrash), the ram caught by his horn in Genesis 22:13, and the horn of Moses (Exod 34:29). Eventually, the midrash says the Lord will raise the horn of the righteous to break the horns of the wicked.

The final paragraph says “the ancient synagogue prayed daily for the exaltation of the Messiah’s horn” citing the Eighteen Benedictions, which may date to the first century CE. However, they then cite the Babylonian recension of the Habinenu prayer, “may the righteous rejoice in the rebuilding of your city, the restoration of your temple, the sprouting of the horn of David, your servant, and the restoration of the lamp of the son of Jesse, your anointed (messiah).” The Talmud attributed the Habinenu prayer to Samuel of Nehardea (165-254 CE). Since Luke 1:69 has a messianic context, it is tempting to quote this prayer as support for “horn of salvation” as a messianic image. However, the prayer dates at least 200 years later. Although it is possible “horn of salvation” is a messianic metaphor, the Habinenu prayer cited by Strack and Billerbeck cannot be used as evidence for this.

Strack and Billerbeck refer to much more than Rabbinic literature. There are many cross references to the Old Testament, Josephus, and Philo, as well as books from the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. For example, on Acts 3:11, the so-called hall of Solomon, they cite Josephus, Jewish War 5.5.2 and Antiquities 15.11.5 on Solomon’s portico with the relevant text printed. For the Gate called Beautiful in Acts 3:2, Strack and Billerbeck include about six pages of data from Josephus and other Jewish sources on the Second Temple gates. Commenting on the alabaster jar of nard in Mark 14:3, they cite 1 Enoch 29 (the mountains of aromatic spices). There are a dozen pages of valuable information on the prohibitions in Acts 15. If you are using the electronic version in Logos Bible Software, all references are tagged. If you own Josephus or Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, clicking the link opens to the passage in context.

There are three excurses related to the Gospel of John. First, before the commentary on the Gospel of John, The Memra of Yahweh (34 pages). Essentially, they ask if the use of the phrase Memra of Yahweh (Word of the Lord) in the Targumim “offers a starting point for Johannine Logos.” Did the “ancient synagogue” think of the Word of the Lord as an embodiment standing between God and the World? This article interacts with German literature reflecting mid-nineteenth century scholarship. The short answer is no. The Memra of Yahweh is a descriptive substitute for the name of Yahweh (384). Nor does the phrase have messianic overtones.

The second excursus follows the commentary on Acts, the Feast of Tabernacles (42 pages). Of importance here is the data on the water libation ritual since on the last day of the feast, Jesus offers himself as living water (John 7:37-38). The third excursus concerns the day of Jesus’s death (42 pages). The subtitle is important: “when considered in relation to the halakah.” The article discusses what day they could have eaten that Passover meal that allowed for his execution the next day. The synoptic gospels imply 15 Nissan. John shifts to 14 Nissan.

Conclusion: Is this new English translation of Strack and Billerbeck worth the investment? This is not a reference work for the casual reader, it is a major tool intended for the serious Bible student and scholar. For many, an English translation of Strack and Billerbeck opens up a new world of Rabbinic literature for the first time. In fact, it is very easy to open this book randomly and read something fascinating.

Using Strack and Billerbeck can enhance one’s understanding of the Jewish background to Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament. But it is a tool which may lead to unintentional consequences and misreading the Rabbinic literature.


NB: Sometimes the commentary refers to Matthew. For example, on Luke 2:4, Bethlehem, the reader is directed to Matthew 2:5; The Son of man coming on the clouds in Luke 21:27 redirects to Matthew 24:30. This makes sense, although at this time volume, one is unavailable. This will no longer be a problem when the first volume is published. On page 883, Acts is misspelled in the header.

You can download the original German version of Strack and Billerbeck on archive.org. Browsing the free German version might convince you this new English translation is worth the investment.

NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


Hannah K. Harrington, The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah (NICOT)

Harrington, Hannah K. The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2022. 529 pp. Hb; $52.00   Link to Eerdmans

Hannah Harrington’s new commentary on Ezra and in the NICOT series replaces F. Charles Fensham’s 1983 commentary (now an Eerdmans Classic Commentary). Harrington was Professor of Old Testament at Patten University and currently serves as an instructor at Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies. She has published extensively on the Dead Sea Scrolls on topics relating to holiness and ritual purity in Second Temple Judaism. She contributed “Leviticus” in Women’s Bible Commentary (WJKP, 2012), Purity Texts, Companion to the Qumran Scrolls (Sheffield Academic Press, 2004) and Holiness: Rabbinic Judaism and the Graeco-Roman World (London: Routledge, 2001). Her interest in holiness and ritual purity serves her well in this excellent commentary on Ezra and Nehemiah.

Harrington, Ezra and NehemiahFollowing a thirteen-page bibliography, Harrington’s ninety-eight-page introduction opens with an explicit statement of purpose: “This commentary seeks to bring into relief the Second Temple context into which Ezra-Nehemiah was written” (1). She views Ezra-Nehemiah as an early repository of information regarding key concepts for Second Temple Judaism, ideas which surface in the literature of other Jewish communities such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament. Jews increasingly asked, “Who is a Jew?” Ezra-Nehemiah is an early narrative dealing with that issue. The books describe an ethnically pure Jewish community, legitimately connected with an Israelite past, guided by that or in the present, despite persecution and domination by a foreign regime (22). The book uses a wide range of literary techniques, in scholars often wonder whether Ezra-Nehemiah is fiction or polemic. She argues the book has historical concerns. There are many precise dates in the earliest audience would not be far removed from the events as they occurred. But the author’s goal was not a precise history, “the book has a theological agenda, presented carefully, using recognizable literary methods” (31).

Since Harrington argues Ezra began his ministry 458 BCE, Ezra’s work predates Nehemiah and the two overlap during the reign of Artaxerxes I. She thinks Chronicles was written later, probably not by the same author. As for the final compilation of Ezra-Nehemiah, if the Jaddua in Nehemiah 12:11 is the same as Josephus (Antiquities 11.302), then the final compilation cannot be before Darius (335-331 BCE). Ezra-Nehemiah claim that under Zerubbabel, about 60,000 lived in Yehud (Judea), but it is difficult to determine population archaeologically for the Persian period. For Jerusalem, some estimates are as low as 2000, others as large as 16,000.

Harrington uses insights drawn from social sciences to examine purity issues in Ezra-Nehemiah, especially intermarriage. For the first time, impurity is caused by certain types of people: gentiles. “The sinner, not just the sin, is impure” (33). This concern leads to a discussion of boundaries. Ezra defines boundaries and groups, which include some and exclude others. “This seems to be exactly the goal of Ezra-Nehemiah” (34).

She surveys Jewish life under Persian rule limited to Cyrus II, Darius I, and Artaxerxes I (35-57). One potential problem is that Ezra-Nehemiah is the primary source for Jewish experience under Persian rule. But there are several texts from the Achaemenid period which support its historical value (36). She says, “faithful readers of the book do not need to despair over discrepancies that exist in the text” and suggests the book was considered sacred, not because it was perfect (lacking error), but because “it was believed to carry divinely inspired traditions that could sustain the faith and life of the community” (37).

This section of the introduction also deals with internal Jewish leadership. What were the political and religious institutions that supported the community? In the absence of a monarch, the power of the priesthood and the Levites grew. But a new class developed, the scholar. Ezra the scribe is a scholar of the word of God. The voice of the prophet is muted in the period, although Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi are witness to the hope for a full restoration of Israel under a messianic figure.

Since the early Persian period is a turning point for Jewish faith and practice, Ezra-Nehemiah is a source for the development of both Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity. She therefore surveys the contributions Ezra-Nehemiah make to this developing theology (57-88). In fact, “it is the goal of this commentary to highlight the seeds of later Judaism in Ezra-Nehemiah” (59).

“Four ‘pillars’ of Second Temple Judaism are emphasized in Ezra-Nehemiah, and they continued to undergird the faith and practice of Jews across sectors during this period: (1) Yahweh is the only true God of Israel; (2) Yahweh’s law, the Torah, is authoritative; (3) Jerusalem and its sanctuary is “the place of his holiness” (Ezra 9:8); and (4) the community of Israel is holy (Ezra 9:2). In all four of these areas, there are signs in Ezra-Nehemiah of both heritage and innovation” (59).

A major contribution is that the Torah is for everyone. Ezra reads the Torah and explains it to the people. But what was Ezra’s Torah? She argues it was some form of the Pentateuch (65), although she recognizes other scholars suggest it was as little as Deuteronomy (with some priestly material). In this section, she covers several practices mentioned in Ezra-Nehemiah that become important in later Judaism. A table summarizes this material by collecting traditions reflected in the book and Second Temple literature not drawn from the Pentateuch (79-80). For each, she provides reference to later sources for the practice. Examples include fasting during a crisis, minimum age for Levites, and intermarriage with non-Jews.

The introduction concludes with a brief comment on the Christian application of Ezra-Nehemiah (88-91). Since the theme of Ezra-Nehemiah is how to maintain a holy community within a society that applies pressure according to a different value system, the books speak to the heart of Christian life in a wide range of cultures. Like many Christians in the modern world, the Jewish community shared their homeland with antagonistic neighbors and paid harsh taxes to a foreign emperor. How do you maintain a religious identity and reject harmful practices while advancing in this hostile, idolatrous culture? Ezra-Nehemiah address the dangers of pluralism and relativism by emphasizing worship as central to the community. Some Christian application appears in the commentary’s body. For example, in her excuses on the exile, she suggests “in some ways Christians, too, live in exile within societies that often hold contrary systems of value” (116).

She divides the Text and Commentary (101-477) into units based on the outline from the introduction. She begins with a new translation with notes on lexical, syntactical, and textual issues. All Hebrew and Aramaic appear in transliteration. The commentary itself is based on the English text with footnotes used for details and secondary literature. This makes the commentary a pleasure to read and will be accessible for those without extensive Hebrew knowledge. Some units only merit brief comment, such as the genealogical lists. She covers 2:2b-20 in little more than a page since most of this material does not require comment.

The commentary includes twenty-three substantial excurses on theological and historical issues. Harrington uses these asides to connect Ezra-Nehemiah to other Second Temple theology and practice, especially Qumran. For example, in the context of Ezra 9, she discusses The Sacrilege of Intermarriage (Excursus 9, 244-54). She begins by dealing with Ezra’s view of intermarriage, along with the relevant background from the Old Testament. Ezra sees Israel as a “holy seed” and the people are responsible for continuing the remnant of that holy seed. To marry outside of Israel endangers the survival of the remnant since such marriages produce illegitimate offspring (i.e., not holy seed). She then connects this view to other Second Temple literature, such as the Testament of Levi, Jubilees and 4QMMT. Written about 150 BCE, 4QMMT is a document from the Dead Sea Scrolls which outline the practices of the community. In contrast, early Christians allowed marriage without racial distinctions, although Paul warns about being “unequally yoked” to a non-believer (2 Cor 6:14). As observed above, the concern is determining boundaries and determining who is properly in the community (and excluding those who are not).

Conclusion. Hannah Harrington’s commentary on Ezra-Nehemiah is an excellent contribution to the study of these two books, but also an introduction to the theology and practice of Second Temple Judaism. Her focus on Ezra-Nehemiah as an early witness to developments in later Judaism and Christianity makes this an especially valuable book. The excurses are worth the price of the commentary alone!


NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Adolf Von Harnack, The Letter of the Roman Church to the Corinthian Church

Von Harnack, Adolf. The Letter of the Roman Church to the Corinthian Church from the Era of Domitian: 1 Clement with a Collection of Articles on 1 Clement by Adolf von Harnack. Edited and translated by Jacob N. Cerone. Foreword by Larry L. Welborn. Classic Studies on the Apostolic Fathers. Eugene, Ore.: Pickwick, 2021. xxvii+249 pp. Pb; $34.00.   Link to Pickwick  

Edited by George Kalantzis and Jeremiah Bailey, the Classic Studies on the Apostolic Fathers will reprint important studies on the Apostolic Fathers and provide translations of important studies which have not yet appeared in English. In this first volume, Jacob Cerone contributes the first translation of Adolf von Harnack’s brief commentary on 1 Clement and four articles Harnack wrote on 1 Clement. Cerone previously edited volume two and three of Strack and Billerbeck and translated volume three. Along with Matthew Fisher, he edited Daily Scriptures: 365 Readings in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin (Eerdmans, 2021).

Harnack 1 ClementHarnack published Einführung in die alte kirchengeschichte: Das schreiben der Römischen Kirche an die Korinthische aus der zeit Domitians (I. Clemensbrief); übersetzt und den studierenden erklärt (An Introduction to Ancient Christianity: The writing of the Roman Church to the Corinthian from the time of Domitian (I. Clement); translated and explained to the students) in 1929. Published shortly before his death in 1930, the book has never been translated into English. As implied by the title, the book was a farewell gift to students in his Church History seminar. Cerone translates the German into smooth English as faithfully as possible. He breaks up “unbearably long, complex sentences” and fixes many of Harnack’s incomplete sentences. He “gives attention to English aesthetics” and cleans up typographical errors in the original. More importantly, Cerone conforms Harnack’s citations to modern academic writing. In the original, Harnack cited sources as author and year, Cerone added a footnote with full bibliographical information where available. In addition, Harnack sometimes quoted specific verses but only cited the chapter. Harnack had “an irritating habit of quoting sources without citing a source.” When possible, Cerone adds a footnote to the source. Throughout the book Cerone adds Translator’s Notes to clarify Harnack’s point or explain his translation choices. The original book restarted footnotes on each page, this new translation numbers footnotes continuously in each chapter. This means the new translation has different footnote numbers than the original. For most readers this will not be a problem unless one is comparing the original German text to the translation. As Cerone says in his preface, if anyone objects to his translation, the German text is available online for anyone who wants to read the original.

Contemporary readers may wonder what value a hundred-year-old monograph on 1 Clement offers to the study of early Christianity. Recent translations of 1 Clement rely on more manuscripts and rely on an additional century of scholarship. Aside from the historical curiosity, what does Harnack contribute to a contemporary discussion of 1 Clement?

As Larry Welborn says in his forward to this book, Harnack saw 1 Clement as an expression of a pure, simple ethic (the kind of Christianity he though was desperately needed in the early twentieth century. For Harnack, 1 Clement is the most important early church document after the New Testament. Welborn offers four examples. First, for some readers, 1 Clement’s use of the Old Testament as a foundation for Christianity may indicate he sees the church as a replacement of Judaism, but Clement may have the attitude of a respectful God-fearer. Second, 1 Clement’s Christology is based on a bread stream of early tradition that does not make use of Paul. Welborn states this observation had little impact on subsequent scholarship. Third, 1 Clement is permeated with Hellenistic, Roman idealism. Harnack draws attention to allusions to Epictetus, Dio Chrysostom, Seneca, etc. Fourth, 1 Clement’s attitude toward the state is entirely positive. Earthly Rome is a parallel to the heavenly kingdom of God. There is no right to resistance for those who ought to be subservient. Perhaps this is a defensive posture for those suffering under Nero or Domitian, but it is striking that Clement (writing from Rome) is so positive toward the Empire.

Harnack included two short lists as a kind of appendix to his original book: first, “Problems that have not yet been conclusively investigated” and second, “A look at the development of church history which the letter grants and that should be studied.” These are brief suggestions for his students to explore in a church history seminar. Many of these issues have not been sufficiently explored since this book was published. Harnack asks, for example, what position the letter takes on culture? This is an ongoing discussion in contemporary scholarship. Further investigation of Clement’s positive attitude toward Rome would contribute to the current discussions of Christianity and Empire. A second example is Harnack’s discussion of church structure in Clement (chapter 5). The letter offers a window on the trajectory from the New Testament to the later institution of the Church, especially with respect to the office of bishop.

Conclusion. For anyone studying early Christianity, Cerone’s new translation of Harnack’s final work on 1 Clement is welcome addition. Reading Harnack’s study of this important post-apostolic writer will be profitable for tracing the development of doctrine and practice in the early church.

Bonus: Tavis Bohlinger interviewed Cerone for he Logos Academic blog in 2021 about this book.

NB: Thanks to Jacob Cerone for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


Matthew S. Harmon, Galatians (EBTC)

Harmon, Matthew S. Galatians. Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2021. xvi+531 pp.; Hb.; $49.99. Link to Lexham Press  Link to Logos

This new volume in the Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary series combines detailed exegetical Galatians commentary with theological observations on theology drawn from one of Paul’s earliest letters. Matthew Harmon (PhD, Wheaton College) serves as professor of New Testament studies at Grace College and Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. His previously contributed Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration in the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology series (IVP Academic, 2020).

Harmon, GalatiansIn the twenty-four-page introduction, Harmon defends a southern Galatian view. Galatians 2:1-10 is a private meeting with the pillars during the famine visit (Acts 11:27-30). Paul wrote Galatians after returning to Antioch (Acts 14:26-28) and before the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-21). A date of 48-49 is most likely.

As is typical in Galatians commentaries, Harmon engages in mirror reading to flesh out the circumstances of the letter. After Paul returned to Antioch, opponents arrived in the newly established churches in Galatia and argue that since Abraham was circumcised before the Mosaic Law, so too should the Gentile believers. The Mosaic Law provides the Gentiles with guidelines for living the Christian life. The opponents also question Paul’s status as an apostle. Since they are acting on the authority of the Jerusalem church, they claim a higher status than Paul. Paul reviews his relationship with Jerusalem, beginning and concluding with an assertion that his authority ultimately rests with God. If anyone preaches a different gospel than Paul has already preached, they are “under a curse.” Any leader can be wrong, as was Cephas in Antioch.

Paul’s theological response begins with justification. Abraham is his chief witness: he was made right with God before circumcision or the law. Since Christ has come, all are united to Christ by faith regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or gender. Paul gets to this hermeneutically by reading scripture differently than the opponents. Paul reads scripture through the lens of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

For Harmon, this is a “redemptive- historical” lens which evaluates earlier scripture in the light of later scripture. In Galatians, Paul reads Abraham through the lens of Isaiah 49-54. By redemptive historical, Harmon says that Paul sees both continuity and discontinuity between the pre-cross and the post-cross periods. The opponents see significant continuity and very little, if any, discontinuity (20). Regarding ethics, by choosing the Mosaic Law as an ethical guideline, one rejects Christ. Freedom from the law in Christ means an opportunity to serve one another in love and to live out a transformed life free from the power of sin and death.

The body of the commentary (25-371) moves through Harmon’s exegetical outline of Galatians. Each unit begins with the CSB translation followed by two paragraphs on context and structure. Harmon then exposits the text phrase by phrase. Although the commentary is based on the English, he extensively uses Greek (without transliteration), using footnotes for lexical, grammatical, and syntactical issues. He also treats textual issues in the footnotes and refers to secondary literature. Each unit ends with a paragraph bridging the exposition to larger canonical and theological issues. The result is an uncluttered commentary useful for both scholars, students, and laypeople.

On several occasions, Harmon deals with controversial topics in the study of Galatians, sometimes in two places in the book. For the troublesome phrase, “works of the law” (ἐξ ἔργων νόμου). He summarizes James Dunn’s views that the phrase refers only to certain boundary markers (primarily circumcision and food laws in Galatians) in a lengthy footnote (110). He then returns to the Works of the Law in the biblical theology section of the book (434-38) as part of a larger discussion of the Mosaic Law in Galatians. In that section, he discusses the background of circumcision, table fellowship and food laws, Sabbath, and Jewish festivals. He concludes, “there is good reason to conclude that the mosaic law demanded perfect obedience.” Paul therefore insists that anyone who submits to circumcision must keep the entire law, not only so-called boundary markers. For Harmon, this agrees in principle with James 2:10.

Similarly, he introduces the issue “faith of Christ Jesus” in 2:16. In the commentary’s body, he briefly describes the issue: Is the phrase an objective genitive or subjective genitive? Should the phase be translated “faith in Jesus” or “faith of Jesus?” Does Paul refer to a person having faith in Jesus to be justified, or does he refer to the faithful act of Jesus on the cross? This has been a highly controversial topic in recent years, and part of the so-called new perspective on Paul. He returns to the issue in the biblical theological section 465- 70. After summarizing the various sides of the issue, he concludes in favor of the objective genitive: Paul refers to the believer’s faith in Jesus Christ.

Like the Two Horizons commentary series, Harmon makes a series of biblical theology comments following his exposition (373-478). This is a robust biblical-theological section. It is in some ways a “theology of Paul through the lens of Galatians.” He begins with salvation history, or apocalypticism, in the apostle Paul. This is a hot topic in Galatians studies since the commentaries of J. Lewis Martyn and Martinus de Boer. By salvation history, Harmon means a “gradual unfolding of God’s plan culminating in Christ.” The apocalyptic view focuses on God breaking into history through Christ, providing a sharp antithesis: before Christ and after Christ. These are not two opposing views; Harmon wants to integrate them into a more holistic reading of Galatians, not unlike N. T. Wright or Michael Bird, An Anomalous Jew (Eerdmans, 2017). he lists several of the apocalyptic antitheses, or contrasts before and after Christ. For example, the present evil age stands in contrast to the new creation, or the messianic age. Paul’s view is a modified version of the common Second Temple Jewish view that history is divided into two ages, a present evil age, and a future messianic age (403). The modification is “already/not yet. Justification paves the way for the new creation, as evidenced by the activity of the Holy Spirit in this age.

Harmon includes several pages on the Abrahamic covenant, summarizing his monograph on the covenant in Second Temple Judaism, She Must Go Free (de Gruyter, 2010). Although the importance of the Abrahamic covenant was recognized in Paul’s day, there was a wide range of opinion on how to interpret it. In Galatians, there is a clear disagreement between Paul and his opponents on the relationship of the Abrahamic covenant and the work of Christ (386). The promise to bless all the nations is fulfilled in Christ, those who trust in Christ are justified before God.

A second major topic in the theology for a Galatians commentary concerns the exile and return from exile. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 27:26 in Galatians 3:10 and in Deuteronomy the ultimate curse is exile. Although Israel returned from exile, they did not experience salvation. For Harmon, Paul is reading Isaiah 40-55, especially the fourth servant song (Isaiah 52:12-53:12), through the lens of Jesus’ suffering under the curse of the law. For Harmon, “Isaiah consistently connects the promise of return from exile with the transformation of creation” (393), the gift of the spirit (394), and the blessing of the nations (395). Christ accomplishes the new exodus by becoming a curse for us. “Paul uses the sin-exile-restoration theme as a supplement to the larger framework of the Abrahamic covenant fulfilled in Christ” (401). Some of this material appears in Harmon’s Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration (IVP Academic 2021).

Paul’s view of the purpose of the Mosaic Law is one of the most challenging biblical theology issues in Galatians. for Paul, sometimes the law has a positive function, but in other cases it is a negative function. The law is limited to a time and has a clear beginning and end. Other times, Paul repudiates the law, rejecting a specific aspect such as circumcision and food laws (Galatians 2:3-6; 2:11-14). Other times, Paul replaces law with a new guideline, such as the law of love. In other examples, Paul re-appropriates the law, using it like wisdom literature or prophecy, so that the story of Abraham is read as a prophecy fulfilled in the work of Christ.

Justification and righteousness are central to the dispute between Paul and his opponents and are crucial for understanding Galatians. But, as Harman observes, this is no easy task. He therefore focuses on the Jewish background for justification, specifically the book of Isaiah (once again following his own monograph, She Must Go Free). He argues Isaiah 40-55 uses righteousness language in parallel with salvation language with strong eschatological overtones. In Isaiah, God is fulfilling his promises to set things right in the world, saving people from sin, and bringing judgment on his enemies. This righteousness is forensic, dealing with a person’s status before a holy and just God in his court of law. But this status ought to lead to ethical righteousness. Paul closely tracks with this view from Isaiah in Galatians. Christ is the means of justification through faith in Jesus, but there is an “already/not yet” aspect to justification. Both are present in Galatians, but most often Paul has the future in mind (450). But Paul does not disconnect justification from present realities. The future or final justification shapes the believer’s life in the present age.

The biblical theology section of the book has shorter sections on God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and the servant of the Lord, seed/offspring, and the use of the Old Testament in Galatians.

Conclusion. Even if this book only contained Harmon’s detailed commentary of Galatians, it would be valuable. But his lengthy discussion of Paul’s theology drawn from Galatians makes this an especially welcome contribution to the study of Galatians.


NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Other Commentaries in this Series: