A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by B. Jason Epps
David E. Garland is a professor of Christian Scriptures at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University. In the introduction to the commentary, Garland mentions the importance of Romans, seeing Romans on its own merits, but also taking into account all interpretations regardless of time period. He calls this a fresh reading of Romans. In the introduction, he also goes into detail weighing scholarly evidence on issues such as the date of Romans, the fact that the Roman audience was probably a consortium of house churches who were a mixture of Jew and Gentile, and that the gospel was brought to them by average people. Garland does not go into specific Jew and Gentile concerns, however. He presents a unique idea as to the purpose behind Romans: that it is not simply a theological treatise, but rather a theological resume to present to the Roman church so he could set up a base so he could do further ministry in Spain.
While Garland’s commentary interacts with multiple scholars and historical data, his commentary is written for a general audience. This coupled with his desire to not get bogged down with theological minutiae translates into a lack of technical theological discussion. For example, he does not discuss imputation or propitiation. He does not even directly address the new perspective on Paul, although his tendency seems to lead toward a traditional standpoint because of his interpretation of “works of the law.” The very fact that he does not get into technical minutiae could be partly driven by the fact that he does not see Romans as a theological treatise but rather a letter for missionary support from Paul to the Romans.
In the introduction, Garland argues that Romans is a cohesive whole, both to itself and the rest of the Old and New Testaments. He analyzes and debunks the differing views for disunity, creating a helpful groundwork in order to analyze the book of Romans. A key idea implied in Garland’s commentary is the consistency of Paul’s gospel message within Paul and in the Old Testament. This is a position often rejected in wider scholarship that maintains a fragmentation of the Pauline corpus. In these and other arguments, Garland establishes and reinforces confidence in the Bible itself. Garland asserts that there are several key theological themes throughout the book of Romans: God’s power, knowledge, righteousness, and grace, Christ’s sacrificial death and obedience, the prevalence and power of the Holy Spirit not only in Christ’s resurrection but at work in the life of every believer now, and finally the authority of the Old Testament as Scripture and that the Old Testament Christologically holds to the Christ event. It is unclear, however, whether Garland takes a position of Christoiconic or Christocentric.
Before the commentary proper, Garland provides a detailed outline of Romans in order to orient readers as to Romans’ structure. Garland subdivides the larger section of Romans into chapter units, focusing on breaking them further down into paragraph units and then into individual verses. After covering the individual verses of a section, he then discusses that section’s theology and how it incorporates both the book of Romans and the Bible as a whole. He also regularly incorporates historical background in the particular section to help orient readers as to the passage’s significance.
While he does not have the space to cover every verse in detail, it is interesting to note that he expands often on verses that are overlooked, for example, Romans 1:1-2, a section of Scripture that some might gloss over. He periodically engages with scholars within the commentary proper. When he does, he utilizes both current and ancient scholars, reinforcing and demonstrating his principle that we should listen to all interpretations and weigh them against the biblical text, regardless of age.
While Garland often discusses theological debates, he frequently avoids the typical topics. When he does mention theological views, he often does not mention his conclusion, but seems to leave the decision up to the reader. One of the key areas where he does this is his discussion of Romans 1:16 and Paul’s use of Habakkuk. He notes that the term “faithful” or “faithfulness” can either refer to a singular person or what the person actually does. While he succinctly states both sides of the argument, his conclusion is that no matter what side one takes, there is not much of a difference in the interpretation. While his general principle has validity, readers might find it helpful for him to take a particular stance. But his thought that scholars often place too much focus and emphasis on the minutiae and make the minutiae supersede everything else is a fair and accurate assessment of one of the major traps of scholarship. This tendency also surfaces around topics such as the new perspective on Paul. Garland does not specifically address theological positions by name, but he takes a traditional approach as regards the new perspective on Paul in that he rejects the concept of boundary markers for works of the law and argues for the traditional view of belief in Christ. He does not comment on the genitive construction of “righteousness” in Romans 3:21.
In the section of Romans 9-11, Garland maintains that the term “Israel” in that section and throughout the biblical corpus refers to ethnic Israel. He asserts that God has continued to show faithfulness to Israel and that faithfulness forms a foundation for our own security. In regards to Romans 11:26, after describing the possible positions, he asserts that the verse refers to saving a large cross-section of ethnic Israel and that Israel’s exclusion is only temporary. Garland does an excellent job summarizing key scholarly debates, but presenting them in an understandable way for the average churchgoer.
He also periodically uses Greek terms, although these terms are transliterated. He explains their key significance. While it is not unusual to choose and analyze key Greek words for a commentary of this type, outside of what one might consider a key Greek word, Garland also analyzes the function of conjunctions, which he uses to reinforce his argument that Romans is a cohesive whole. This is another instance where Garland seems to deviate, refreshingly, from scholarly convention. His focus on simple conjunctions reinforces his general premise that Romans is a unity and the significance of inspiration. Every word that is in the biblical text is placed there for a reason and reinforces the intended authorial intent.
Garland also includes an extensive supplemental bibliography which allows for further research if one so desires. One drawback to this book is that the table of contents does not include page numbers for the chapters within the commentary proper, making it difficult to locate a particular verse. If one is looking for answers concerning a particular verse, this commentary most likely will not have the detail necessary, since Garland only has the space to periodically go into depth. It would be helpful if he more clearly stated his theological positions instead of hinting at them, especially in regard to the new perspective on Paul. However, I find Garland’s refraining from getting into specific theological issues refreshing because in so doing he turns the attention away from theological schema back to the Word of God. In spite of this, this commentary would be a fantastic tool for anyone looking to have a general insight into current key scholarly debates presented in an understandable way or who desires to see Romans illustrated as a cohesive whole.
B. Jason Epps
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Buy the books
ROMANS: AN INTRODUCTION AND COMMENTARY, by David E. Garland