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).
The 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.