Book Review – Douglas Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans

Moo, Douglas J., Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey. Encountering Biblical Studies. Grand Rapids, Mich. Baker, 2002. 240 pp. Pb; $27.89.  Link to Baker  Link to Logos

The Encountering the Bible series from Baker Academic includes an Old and New Testament Survey (reviewed here) as well as several texts on specific books designed for a College or Seminary classes. Encountering the Book of Romans was originally published in 2002, but has recently been released as a book in the Logos Bible Software library.

Moo is well-known to students of the book of Romans, having written a commentary on Romans in the Wycliffe series (Moody, now out of print), a major commentary on Romans for Eerdmans (NICNT, 1996) and the NIV Application Commentary volume on Romans for Zondervan (2000). In addition he has written numerous journal articles on aspects of Romans, both exegetical and theological. He has also written commentaries on James and Colossians/Philemon in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series (Eerdmans), and his Galatians commentary is due this fall in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series. His NICNT volume is excellent; I included it among my “Top Five Romans Commentaries” last summer. Moo’s contribution to the Encountering the Bible series distills his thinking on Romans into a very readable form, intended to introduce students to the major issues one needs to face when reading Romans.

Encountering Romans

Logos on the Desktop

Like other books in this series, Encountering the Book of Romans is designed to be used in a classroom. The chapters are brief and divided into clear sub-units. Each chapter begins with clear objectives (“after reading this chapter you should be able to….”) The chapters conclude with study questions that could be used for writing assignments for a class on Romans. Key terms are listed at the end of a chapter and appear in bold in the body of the text.  Like most textbooks, there are numerous text boxes scattered throughout the book that give additional information or connect the text of Romans to larger questions of Pauline theology.

The book is divided into six parts, beginning with some basic orientation to the study of Paul.  The first three chapters discuss briefly the impact of the New Perspective on Paul on the study of Romans. For the most part, Moo does not depart from the standard conservative view on the origins of the Roman church and the situation for Paul’s writing of the letter.  For Moo, the letter is written in A.D. 57 from Corinth, just prior to his return to Jerusalem to deliver the Collection.  Paul’s intention is to prepare the way for a potential ministry trip to Spain.  The church of Rome was founded by Jewish believers who perhaps first heard the Gospel at Pentecost, but many of those Jewish believers were expelled from Rome by Claudius. While some Jews have returned to Rome, the churches Paul addresses are primarily Gentiles, especially God-Fearing Gentiles.

Moo contrasts the “classic” view beginning with Luther with the recent critique of that status quo by E. P. Sanders, but more important for Romans, James Dunn’s Word Commentary on Romans. Moo states that most scholars find Sanders’s view of first century Judaism accurate (p. 25), but the New Perspective goes too far when they reduce the gospel in to only a “people of God” issue.  For Moo, Romans 1:16-17 is “basically about the restoration of the individual sinner’s relationship to God” (p. 28).

Moo describes his approach as a “modified reformation approach,” although he does attempt to show how both side approach any given text or issue in Romans. Moo says that “The reader should know that I have taken a mildly critical stance toward the new perspective in this volume” (p. 28). But this book does not vilify the New Perspective. For Moo, there is still much to be learned from Dunn. Moo is not able to interact with N. T. Wright’s commentary on Romans (in the New Interpreter’s Bible), which was published the same year as this book.

The body of the book forms a commentary on Romans in five sections. There sections Moo uses are fairly standard (1:18-3:20; 3:21-4:25; 5:1-8:39; 9:1-11:36; 12:1-15:13, with an addition chapter on 15:14-16:27).  The commentary is based on English, although there are occasional references to the Greek text (always in transliteration). Moo manages to treat the classic exegetical problems in Romans with brevity and clarity. For example, the meaning of baptism in Romans 6:3-4 is covered in a well-written paragraph that introduces the major views (p. 113). Moo states his view very clearly (“I suggest…”) and alerts the reader to similar views from James Dunn and G. R. Beasley-Murray via footnotes.  “All Israel will be saved” in in Romans 11:26 is another exegetical conundrum.  After surveying the options, Moo states “I think that verse 26a predicts the conversion of a significant number of Jews at the time of Christ’s return in glory, and I am deliberately vague about the timing” (p. 171). Once again, there is enough here for a student to find options, compare views, yet Moo does defend a position.

As an introduction to the book of Romans, this book is an excellent choice for undergrad classes and a good choice for graduate classes. At the graduate level, I might suggest Karl Donfried’s The Romans Debate (Revised and Expanded Edition; Hendrickson, 1991) as a supplement to Moo’s book.

Encountering the Book of Romans in Logos

Encountering the Book of Romans appears in the Logos Library.  While there is a  Kindle version of this book available from Amazon ($15.39), it does not include page numbers at this time. Unlike the third edition of Encountering the New Testament or the Kindle version, Encountering the book of Romans in the Logos Library does not include illustrations and text boxes appear as text in a monospaced font, set off by lines rather than a colored box. The print version has two columns per page with endnotes, the Logos version is single column and footnotes are embedded.

Reading a book with notes in Logos works very well, especially compared to the Kindle version. On the desktop version of Logos, all of the features found in Logos are available when reading the book.  Footnotes are links which float the user mouses over the number, or they can be clicked to highlight text in the notes (this is handy for copying bibliographic entries). Some Logos books on the iPad place the notes at the bottom of the page (the Pillar New Testament Commentaries, for example), but Encountering Romans does not.

On the desktop the user is able to search the book in ways you cannot with a paper copy.  For example, I wanted to see all the references to Dunn (there are 23) and Wright (there are only three).  While an author index is commonly appended to a book, the printed index is not comprehensive (only one reference to Dunn, none to Wright). Perhaps more useful is a search on justification (65x), with only 16 appearing in the printed index.  The printed index does sort these references by topic (justification by faith, for example), but that can be done in a Logos search as well.

Logos on the iPad syncs with the desktop version. This means that highlights and notes made on the iPad appear on the desktop version, and vice versa.  For this review, I read on my iPad and made a few notes and highlights.  When I opened Logos on my laptop, all of those highlights and notes were immediately available to me.

Conclusion. Doug Moo’s Encountering Romans would make an excellent introduction for a Romans course. The book is easy enough to read that it is appropriate for an undergraduate course, but Moo’s interaction with contemporary scholarship makes the text a good addition for a graduate level class as well.  I think that it is more accessible than The Romans Debate, and probably more appealing to more conservative audiences.

Logos has a special price for a three-book bundle of Encountering the Old Testament, Encountering the New Testament, and Encountering Romans. Logos books are often available “on sale’ from time to time and students should inquire about potential discounts. You can follow @logos for a daily twitter deal.  (UPDATE: Logos has an “upgrade” for the Encountering series on offer as a pre-publication, 25% off for Bill Arnold, Encountering Genesis, Brett Beyer, Encountering the Book of Isaiah, and Donald Hagner, Encountering the Book of Hebrews.)

Thanks to Logos for kindly providing me with a review copy of these books. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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