Longenecker, Richard N. The Epistle to the Romans. NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 1208 pp. Hb; $80. Link to Eerdmans
It is clichéd to call this new contribution to the New International Greek Text Commentary “highly anticipated.” Richard N. Longenecker is one of the premier New Testament scholars of the last fifty years and his contributions to Pauline studies have been considerable (Paul, Apostle of Liberty, Second Edition, Eerdmans 2015; Galatians, Word Biblical Commentary, 1990). His brief Introducing Romans: Critical Concerns in Paul’s Most Famous Letter (Eerdmans, 2011). This magisterial commentary builds on a successful career spent studying Paul by digging deep into the details of this most important book of the New Testament.
Longenecker states in his preface he desires to spell out a proper interpretation of Romans by building on the work of past commentators, being critical, exegetical, and constructive in his analysis of the text of Romans, and to set a course for future study of Romans (xv). He certainly achieves these goals in the commentary. First, with respect to “building on the work of past commentators,” The beginning of the commentary lists seven pages of previous commentaries divided into Patristic, Reformation, and Modern Critical commentaries. Second, Longenecker seeks to “be critical, exegetical, and constructive in his analysis of the text of Romans.” It is certainly the case that his comments are judiciously critical and sensitive to the wider range of theological interests current in Pauline studies today. Third, one goal of a commentary of this size is “to set a course for future study of Romans.” Only time will tell if Longenecker achieve this goal, but it will be difficult for the next generation of writers to ignore this commentary.
With respect to typical introductory material, Longenecker only briefly sketches the major critical issues in the book, referring readers to his recent Introducing Romans for greater detail. Briefly, Paul wrote the book from Corinth in the winter of 57-58 with the involvement of both Tertius, Phoebe and perhaps input from members of the Corinthian congregation (5-6). These are not controversial conclusions. He deals with two “matters recently resolved,” including the presence of glosses or interpolations (a possibility, but unlikely if textual criticism is properly applied to the text) and the original form of the book. Longenecker agrees with Harry Gamble’s Textual History of the Letter to the Romans as well as Hurtado and Marshall on the authenticity of the final doxology (8).
He devotes more space to several extensively debated topics. First, with respect to the identity and character of the recipients of the letter, Longenecker argues the recipients are both Jews and Gentiles who think in “Jewish categories,” but are not Judaizers. Second, Paul’s purpose for writing the letter is both pastoral and missional. Paul desires to impart a “spiritual gift” to the Roman believers but also to seek their support for his Gentile mission to Spain (10). The book also serves to defend Paul against misrepresentations of his mission and theology as well as offering council regarding a dispute between the “weak” and the “strong.” Third, the epistolary genre of the letter is a “letter essay,” setting instructional material in an epistolary format (14). His fourth issue is related to the third, the rhetorical genres of the letter. Although scholars have identified Romans as forensic, deliberative, or epideictic models for Romans, Longenecker considered the letter to be protreptic, a “word of exhortation” (15) with some influence from Jewish remnant rhetoric (especially in chapters 9-11). Finally, the focus of the book is to be found in Romans 5:1-8:39. This unit of the letter is the message of the Christian Gospel contextualized for Gentiles who have no prior interest in Judaism of Jewish Christianity (17). Longenecker thinks Paul found the story of the Exodus and forensic justification to be unknown and insignificant to Gentiles. His presentation of the Gospel to the Gentiles therefore focused on peace with God, and the relationship of sin and death. All people are equally unable to overcome death by their own strength, therefore all people need to enter in to a new relationship, to be “in Christ.”
Paul quotes approximately 100 Old Testament texts in 83 places in the letter and alludes to many more. This is a much higher rate than any other of Paul’s letters and the quotes are not evenly distributed throughout the book. Romans 5:1-8:39 has only two quotes. Unlike Galatians or the Corinthians letters, Longenecker does not think Paul’s use of the Old Testament is a result of some Jewish opponent in the Roman churches. Paul’s exegetical strategies are sometimes difficult to follow, these will be discussed as the commentary proceeds. In addition to quotations, Romans may have use confessional material, religious aphorisms, Jewish and Jewish Christian devotional and catechetical material (23). These materials will be identified in the commentary in the Structure/Setting section.
The body of the commentary is divided into several major units with introductions (chapters 1-8, 9-11, 12-15). Longenecker begins each sub-unit with a new translation of the text followed by notes on textual variants. The inclusion of a translation is not found in all of the NIGTC series and is welcome here especially given the extensive textual notes Longenecker provides. The introduction has a twelve-page summary of the manuscript evidence for Romans. Longenecker uses the United Bible Society’s GNT4 and NA27 as his base text and he discusses every variant appearing in the GNT4 in Romans and many of the variants found in NA27. The introduction also includes a chart listing the manuscripts for Romans including date, contents, Aland category (32-34).
Following the translation, Longenecker offers a section entitled Form/Structure/Setting, reminiscent of the Word Biblical Commentary series, a feature not found in other NIGTC commentaries. This section any special problems in the unit. For example in this section for Romans 2:17-29, Longenecker has brief comments on who is addressed by the pericope, the two prominent rhetorical conventions in the passage, the possibility of chiasmus in the passage, the use of Scripture and traditional material, and the structure and setting of the passage and a short note on theological issues. The Form/Structure/Setting section is flexible so that Romans 4:1-24 has an excellent section on the Example of Abraham in Second Temple period; for Romans 9:6-29 Longenecker covers major proposals for interpreting the section.
Longenecker’s exegetical comments are divided by verse and the commentary proceeds phrase-by-phrase. Greek and Hebrew appear without transliteration, although the exegesis is not dense with syntactical observations. For the most part he is able to stick to his intention to provide a faithful explanations of the text without being bogged down by minute details. This makes for a very readable commentary. Faithful to his intentions stated in the preface, Longenecker interacts with ancient and Reformation commentaries as well as a full range of modern writers. For example, the index lists some 27 references to Origin, 20, to Tertullian, 22 to Calvin, and 18 to Luther. Pages are not overly cluttered with references to secondary literature; it is remarkable how few footnotes there are in this commentary. This indicates original commentary rather than reporting what other commentators have already said.
After the exegetical comments, Longenecker includes several pages under the heading of “Biblical Theology.” These sections Longenecker builds on his exegesis by integrating Romans into wider Pauline and systematic theology. This is refreshing since commentary writers often ignore the contribution of their exegesis to the larger world of theology. Commenting on Romans 8:31-39, Longenecker says interpreters of Romans have “atomized what Paul writes…bringing everything under only one particular theme” or are “at a loss to understand the coherence of what he has written” (761). Following the biblical theology, Longenecker concludes with a brief “contextualization for today.” These are not “pastoral comments” by way of application. In fact, there is sometimes only a slight difference between these sections and the biblical theology sections.
The commentary includes a number of short excurses. For example, after commenting on Romans 3:25a, Longenecker includes an excursus entitled “Three Exegetical and Thematic Matters in Romans 3:25a that Are of Particular Importance (Though Also Frequently Disputed) and Therefore Deserving of Special Consideration.” (Yes, that is the title!) What follows is seven pages of slightly smaller print discussing the meaning of “whom God presenting publically,” “Sacrifice of Atonement,” and the prepositional phrase “through his faithfulness, by his blood.” This excursus is more detailed than the rest of the commentary, but it should not be assumed an excursus is not critically important to the commentary. For example, Longenecker’s nine pages of comments on the righteousness of God (Romans 1:17) are an excellent summary of the state of the discussion of this important phrase. His eight pages on “‘Works of the Law’ and the ‘New Perspective’” is worth reading before working through the commentary on Romans 3:20. Another critically important note is his more than eight pages on the remnant in rabbinic writings and non-conformist Judaism in the first two centuries B.C.E. A list of all of the excurses ought to be included in the table of contents or indices.
Conclusion. Any commentary in the New International Greek Text Commentary is worth buying and often becomes the first resource I consult. Longenecker’s contribution to this series takes its place along a handful of recent major commentaries on the book of Romans which will set the agenda for the study of this important book for the next generation of biblical scholars.
NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.