Book Review: Grant Osborne, Romans: Verse by Verse

Osborne, Grant R.  Romans: Verse by Verse. Osborne New Testament Commentaries; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2017. 542 pp.; Pb.  $26.99  Link to Lexham Press

Grant Osborne is perhaps best known for his The Hermeneutical Spiral, a standard textbook for a generation of pastors and teachers. He serves as the series editor for the IVP New Testament Commentary and contributed the Romans commentary for that series (2004). This is the first volume of a series of New Testament commentaries written by Osborne and published by Lexham Press in both print and Logos Library editions. As of December 2017, six of the commentaries have been published.

In the series preface, Osborne describes three goals for his commentaries. First, they may be used for devotional Scripture reading. Since the commentaries are based on the NIV translation a reader can use this commentary as a supplement to their daily Bible reading. Second, these commentaries may be used in Church Bible studies, perhaps in a small group or Sunday school context. Third, these commentaries will serve as aids for pastors and teachers as they prepare sermons on the text of the Bible. Osborne says he wants “to help pastors faithfully exposit the text in a sermon.” As he writes these commentaries, Osborne draws on his own experience as a pastor and interim pastor. He goal is academic respectable but intended for the layperson. Osborne attempts to balance a deep reading of the text with a practical application for the Bible student.

In the seventeen-page introduction Osborne argues for a more or less tradition view of the date and origin of the book of Romans. Paul wrote the book about A.D. 57 from Corinth just before he returned to Jerusalem to deliver the collection. The Roman church was founded by Jews returning home after Pentecost, but most of these leaders were expelled in A.D. 49 by Claudius. When they returned in A.D. 54, they found the churches were now predominantly Gentile. Osborne sees the issues in Romans 14:1-15:13 as real tensions between Jewish and Gentile believers in the Roman churches. The main purpose of Romans is preparation for a new phase of Paul’s ministry in the western half of the Empire. A second reason for writing the letter was to gain prayer support for the delivery of the collection (15:31). But the third reason Osborne offers for the writing of Romans may be more dominant: Paul wants to bring unity to a church in conflict.

Osborne includes a short theology of Romans, briefly discussing what the letter says about God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The election of the believer and the Christian walk. With respect to the election of the believer, Osborne refers to Romans 9-11, but refers readers to his exposition of 8:28 and the end of Romans 10 to allow “readers to decide for themselves” (17). In the commentary on Romans 8:28 he briefly compares Calvin and Arminius on the definition of foreknowledge and predestination, concluding that he find the Arminian view “more faithful to all the biblical data.” In his comments on Romans 10 Osborne does not engage with Calvinist or Arminian theology, preferring to let Scripture speak for itself. He says “salvation is available for ‘anyone’ who is willing to believe” (318).

The body of the commentary covers paragraphs of Romans in each chapter. For example, Romans 6:1-14 is a sixteen pages chapter. 6:15-23 is a ten-page chapter. The commentary chapter is then divided into units covering each verse in the section. Occasionally Osborne will refer to a Greek word, but these only appear in transliteration and do not distract readers who have not studied Greek. Occasionally he corrects the NIV (for example, pages 113 and 361, gar is not translated in the NIV). Footnotes are rare in the commentary, occasionally pointing to another scholar for additional information or to a series of cross-references. The commentary concludes with a glossary of key terms (indicated by bold in the text), a short bibliography, Subject/Author index and a Scripture index.

Osborne excels in summarizing important theological points which arise in the text and gently suggesting his own view. For example, a classic problem for interpreters of Romans is the phrase “in whom all sinned” in Romans 5:12. He offers five options, three of which are viable options. He suggests mediate imputation (the Arminian view) is the best understanding of Paul’s phrase. With respect to the “I” in Romans 7, Osborne offers four options before suggesting it is best to see “Paul as using himself as an example of all humanity” (200). Commenting on Israel’s national future in 11:25-36, Osborne he makes three clear points which offer the reader an overview of this controversial topic.

One major difference between this commentary and his 2004 IVP commentary is the complete lack of reference to the work of other scholars. There are several places in this commentary which are identical to Osborne’s 2004 commentary (the first paragraph of the introduction to each book for example). His comments on Romans 16:18 are virtually identical as well. Often the general text is the same, but in-text citations have been removed. For example, commenting on Romans 11:25, page 205 of the 2004 IVP Commentary has “The in part could modify Israel (so Barrett 1957; Käsemann 1980; Morris 1988), page 362 of this 2017 commentary has “The ‘in part’ could modify ‘Israel’” with no reference to Barrett, Käsemann or Morris. The Lexham commentary does not indicate it is a revision of the IVP commentary, but in many case it is a lightly edited version of the 2004 commentary. This may not detract from the value of the commentary, since Osborne has in fact re-written most of the commentary to fit the style of the new series.

Osborne’s Romans commentary is available in print or in the Logos library. The Logos version of the book utilizes all of the features of the Logos Bible Software and is available on every version of the software. Users can float over cross-references to read the text; footnotes function similarly. Clicking a reference will take you to that Scripture in your preferred translation. The electronic version is tagged with real page numbers so the commentary can be cited in the same way as the real book.

Conclusion. Osborne has succeeded (again) in his goal of providing a scholarly yet readable commentary on the important book of Romans. The commentary is irenic, never passionately arguing for an Arminian position or violently rejecting the Calvinist view.

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.

8 thoughts on “Book Review: Grant Osborne, Romans: Verse by Verse

  1. Good to hear about this commentary. I have a couple thoughts in relation to the 3-point summary of Osborne’s understanding of the purpose of Romans.

    First, it’s refreshing to see that he apparently gives due weight to the matter of Paul’s collection for Jerusalem…. How vitally important it was in Paul’s priorities despite the known dangers. (One has to wonder why this is so, a point which has been greatly under-played, along with the significance of the collection effort over several years, the trip on its behalf, etc., by most commentators.)

    Second, point 3, Paul’s desire to bring unity to serious divisions is closely tied to point 2, the collection and its function – the same point of seeking unity or at least mutual respect amid differences. It represents cultural as well as ritual/practice differences that already were severe throughout the regions “evangelized” by both Paul and others (such as the founders of Rome’s church). Much of the tension was over how to handle Jewish customs and “law observance” and how to view it in relation to “salvation”.

    On the latter, Christians too often forget that no “doctrine of salvation” had yet been formed. I am among many serious students believing that Paul had not, in fact, received direct, clear revelation as to God’s “plan of salvation”. (On his “revelations” or visions he himself is vague and confusing.)

    Even the NT record, honestly examined, indicates that new views on salvation were being gradually hammered out and that different understandings often followed ethnicity. They involved not mainly “personal” salvation, but the establishment of the Kingdom (as collective salvation) and other issues. Of course, Paul, from an ethnically-and-culturally-mixed area, did bring innovation, including new focus on personal transformation not previously existing in Judaism. I’m wondering if Osborne seems to adequately grapple with such issues, certainly on Paul’s mind in the things he writes in Romans?

    To return briefly to “the collection”, I’ll note a resource which has no parallel, to my knowledge, although now a couple years out. It is a film and book combo, both of which I’ve reviewed on my blog, which add significantly to our understanding of Paul, his relation to “The Twelve” and Jerusalem believers, and the early formation of Christianity before the cataclysm of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. (https://wordpress.com/post/naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/2233).

    Like

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