Reviewed by John D. Harvey
About the Author
Richard N. Longenecker is professor emeritus of New Testament at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto. His other books include Paul, Apostle of Liberty, The Christology of Early Jewish Christianity, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, the Word Biblical Commentary on Galatians, and Introducing Romans: Critical Issues in Paul’s Most Famous Letter.
About the Series
The New International Greek Testament Commentary series (NIGTC) “attempt[s] to provide a theological understanding of the text based on historical-critical-linguistic exegesis.” The volumes in the series seek to demonstrate the value of studying the Greek text, aim at a level less technical than a full-scale critical commentary, and focus more on interacting with modern scholarship than on expounding the text for modern readers. The format is not as standardized as is the case with some commentary series (e.g., BECNT, WBC, or ZECNT). Richard Longenecker’s volume on Romans is the thirteenth in the NIGTC series.
Longenecker provides a forty-page bibliography (through 2011) that includes patristic, reformation, and modern commentaries as well as supplementary monographs, articles, and other materials. In his thirty-nine-page introduction, he reaches the following conclusions. (1) That Paul, the apostle, wrote the letter from Corinth/Cenchrea in the winter of A.D 57–58. (2) That the original form of the letter consisted of 1:1–16:23 + 25–27. (3) That the letter was originally sent to the Christian community in Rome, a community that included both Jewish and Gentile believers, although with Gentile Christians in the majority. (4) That Paul had two primary purposes in writing: (a) to share the “spiritual gift” of his gospel to the Gentiles, and (b) to seek assistance for extending the Gentile mission to Spain. (5) That subsidiary purposes included (c) to defend himself against criticisms, (d) to give counsel regarding a dispute between “strong” and “weak” believers, and (e) to give instruction about how to relate to the city’s governmental authorities. (6) That the letter combines Hellenistic protreptic speech (1:16–8:39; 12:1–15:13) with Jewish remnant rhetoric (9:1–11:36). (7) That the central focus of the letter is 5:1–8:39, where Paul sets out “the message of the Christian gospel as he had contextualized it in his preaching to those who were ethnically Gentiles and without any preparatory religious knowledge gained from either Judaism or Jewish Christianity” (17). Longenecker addressed additional introductory matters at some length in his earlier volume, Introducing Romans: Critical Issues in Paul’s Most Famous Letter (Eerdmans, 2011).
Longenecker uses epistolary analysis to divide the letter into two opening sections (1:1–7; 1:8–12), body (1:13–15:32), and two concluding sections (15:33–16:16; 16:17–27). The letter body consists of a body-opening (1:13–15), a body-middle (1:16–15:13), and a body-closing (15:14–32). The twenty-six units of the body-middle are grouped into four major sections (1:16–4:25; 5:1–8:39; 9:1–11:36; 12:1–15:13). Six components structure the discussion of each of the thirty-two textual units that comprise the letter: (1) Translation, (2) Textual Notes, (3) Form/Structure/Setting, (4) Exegetical Comments, (5) Biblical Theology, and (6) Contextualization for Today.
In his introduction, Longenecker also highlights seven features of the commentary proper that he views as distinctive. Those features provide a helpful starting point for commenting on the volume. The formal patterning and compositional structures addressed in the Form/Structure/Setting sections are helpful in understanding the course of Paul’s argument, as is the attention given to OT quotations and allusions. The commentary pays particular attention to the possible presence of pre-Pauline material—Christian confessions, traditional religious aphorisms, and Jewish or Jewish-Christian devotional/catechetical materials. Although the discussion of this material is interesting and generally helpful, some readers might consider it overdone in places, and not all readers will agree with the extent to which Longenecker finds Jewish-Christian background running throughout the letter.
The idea that a narrative substructure underlies Paul’s presentation is not a new concept (as Longenecker notes) and, so, is perhaps not as distinctive as he suggests. Longenecker handles the tracing of similar themes, concepts, and expressions in extra-biblical material (“phenomenological historiography”) well, although with a decided leaning toward Jewish thinking and writing. The premise that expressional developments within Romans itself and the suggestion that the letter represents “varied contextualizations of the Christian gospel,” although persuasive in some places, are not consistently so.
Overall, the commentary is particularly strong in interacting with the history of scholarship on interpretive issues. It is solidly evangelical, with no significant variations from the Gospel Coalition statement of faith. Although, for example, he concludes that pistis Iesou Christou is best understood as divine faithfulness (i.e., a subjective genitive) and notes the importance of Sanders’s contribution to understanding the context of Second Temple Palestinian Judaism, Longenecker rejects the “new perspective on Paul” and explains his conclusions well in an excursus on issues related to that topic.
The Textual Notes are extensive and detailed but are also nicely readable. The Exegetical Comments engage the Greek text somewhat less extensively than might be expected in a series intended to demonstrate the value of studying that text. The Biblical Theology and Contextualization sections are welcome additions, although the latter are somewhat general in places and could have been strengthened by more specific interaction with attitudes and behaviors of contemporary culture
The volume suffers somewhat from an uneven distribution of coverage. In fact, the number of pages devoted to major sections of the letter decreases steadily as the commentary progresses. The discussion of Chapters 1–4 covers 494 pages, while the discussion of Chapters 5–8 covers 226 pages, the discussion of Chapters 9–11 covers 145 pages, and the discussion of Chapters 12–16 covers 175 pages. That distribution seems out of proportion if the heart of the letter is 5:1–8:39, and it reflects Longenecker’s extended attention to Jewish and Jewish-Christian background in the opening chapters. Somewhat more balanced coverage would have strengthened the volume.
This volume invites comparison with other major modern commentaries on Romans. As part of the NIGTC series, it is on a level with the commentaries by Cranfield (ICC, 1980), Dunn (WBC, 1988), Moo (NICNT, 1996), Schreiner (BECNT, 1998), and Jewett (Hermeneia, 2007). Longenecker engages the Greek text less than the others but interacts with the history of scholarship more extensively than the others. His theological perspective is less reformed than Moo or Schreiner, but he is clearly in the evangelical camp, while Cranfield, Dunn, and Jewett are not. His focus on the argument of the letter is comparable to Schreiner’s, and his attention to epistolary analysis stands in contrast to Jewett’s focus on rhetorical analysis. His strong focus on Jewish Christianity differs from the others, who tend to place somewhat more emphasis on Greco-Roman historical background.
In summary, Longenecker’s commentary exhibits the qualities his students came to expect in his teaching and mentoring. His writing is balanced, thorough, and gracious. His analysis is strong on the history of interpretation, pays good attention to historical background and context, and tends to be somewhat more focused on Paul’s overall argument than on the grammatical details of the text. The resulting product breaks little new ground but provides a solid evangelical treatment of Paul’s letter. At $80.00, the commentary is a bit pricey, but in combination with his earlier introductory volume is well worth considering as an addition to your library.
John D. Harvey is Dean and Professor of New Testament at Columbia International University Seminary & School of Ministry, Columbia, SC
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The Epistle to the Romans: The New International Greek Testament Commentary