A review of Thomas Schreiner's, "Romans," by Roy Ciampa.
Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 6. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998. $39.99 hc. + 832 pp. ISBN: 0-801-02149-9.
This is a solid, well-written commentary that does a good job of explaining the exegetical and theological issues raised by Paul’s letter to the Romans. Given the size of the commentary this review will need to restrict itself to looking at the way Schreiner deals with a few of those key exegetical and interpretive issues so that the reader can get a sense of the general quality and orientation of his commentary.
A particular strength of this commentary is the careful attention that it gives to explaining Paul’s flow of thought. Each major section of the letter receives an introductory overview and then each subsection begins with brief introductory comments and a discussion of the structure of the passage at hand.
With respect to introductory issues, Schreiner argues that the Roman churches were composed mainly of Gentile Christians who were well versed in the OT Scriptures. Tensions had arisen between Jewish and Gentile Christians and the latter needed to be exhorted to be more accepting of their Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul had various purposes in writing the letter, but the most important was that of unifying the church. He knew that the worship of a harmonious church would bring honor and glory to God’s name, and that was his ultimate purpose.
In his discussion of 1:16-17 Schreiner considers the question of the meaning of “the righteousness of God” in the letter. Does it refer to the believer’s status before God as one who has been declared righteous by him (forensic righteousness) or to God’s saving power, his divine activity that transforms the lives of believers, or both (pp. 63ff.)? He concludes that it often involves both aspects, and that it does in these verses. To support the latter meaning he quotes several OT texts (Ps 71:2, 15; 98:2-3; Isa 46:13; 51:8) that suggest that “God’s righteousness” often refers to his saving power.
In those texts “God’s righteousness” refers to God’s act of salvation as a manifestation of his covenant faithfulness. God’s covenant faithfulness leads him to save his people from their plight. None of those texts suggest, however, that God’s saving power resulted in the moral transformation of the life of the one or ones who were saved from their plight. The transformation that occurs is the deliverance of a person or a people from a situation of plight to one of security, not the transformation of a sinful person into a godly one.
Of course, when God justifies us he also regenerates us and gives us the Holy Spirit and the power to live according to his will. The letter to the Romans clearly discusses both imputed and imparted righteousness but Schreiner has not provided convincing evidence that the language of “justification” or of “the righteousness of God” refers to the latter.
Schreiner recognizes that there is some connection between God’s righteousness and his covenant faithfulness but he tends to minimize the relationship (68ff.). He raises the question of “why God saves his people” and argues that it is for the honor and glory of his name (pp. 69-71). While Schreiner suggests this theme is not related to the idea of God’s covenant faithfulness, the very texts he cites indicate that God’s reputation will be hurt if his faithfulness to his covenant partners does not lead him to save and vindicate them. Schreiner does not seem to recognize that the honor and glory of God’s name is directly related to the question of his covenant faithfulness.
Schreiner agrees that the so-called new perspective on Paul (and early Judaism) has brought some important correctives to earlier interpretations. On the whole, however, he finds the traditional interpretation of works-righteousness to be more convincing. In his discussion of “works of the law” (pp. 169ff.) he correctly argues that by this expression Paul does not refer merely to those parts of the law that served as identity markers distinguishing Jews from Gentiles (such as circumcision and the food laws). Rather the expression refers to the whole law.
Further clarification would come from a closer look at 4QMMT, a Qumran document which not only uses the expression “works of the law” but which actually consists of a description of the “works of the law” that were taught by that community. There it seems that “works of the law” (which had little to do with “good works”) did serve as identity markers. They did not deal with a limited set of laws that distinguished between Jews and Gentiles but they were identity markers in the sense that they were used as a standard by which true Jews could be identified in terms of their obedience to the whole law of Moses.
Several pages are dedicated to the question of whether or not pistis Christou (“faith in/of Christ”) should be understood as a reference to the Christ’s faithfulness as opposed to faith in Christ (pp. 181-186). The arguments for both sides are well presented. While this reviewer agrees with his conclusion that we should interpret the expression as a reference to “faith in Christ,” the debate will not be easily put to rest!
Schreiner understands the “I” in Romans 7 to refer to Paul’s own experience which also recapitulates the history of Adam and of Israel (p. 365). He provides us with a well-balanced discussion of the arguments in favor of seeing the passage as referring to Christian experience and in favor of seeing it as pre-Christian experience (pp. 380-390). He correctly sees that the main point of the chapter has to do with the inability of the Law to empower us to do what it asks and he concludes that Paul may not intend to distinguish between believers and unbelievers in the passage (p. 390).
Solid arguments are given for understanding the “all Israel” in Romans 11:26 as a reference to ethnic Israel, even if not every member of the nation, and for understanding it in relation to the re-grafting in of a great number of Jews after the full number of Gentiles have been grafted in.
In his discussion of Romans 13:8-10 Schreiner argues that the ethical commandments of the law are normative for Paul and that in his theology “the Spirit is the means by which the law is observed, and thus keeping the law is not a heavy burden but a joy” (695). This reviewer finds that particular way of putting things difficult to reconcile not only with Galatians 3:23ff., but also with Romans 7:1-7 (even if Schreiner’s interpretation of 8:1-4 would support it).
Schreiner accepts that Junia(s) in Romans 16:7 is a woman who was (with her husband) “distinguished among the apostles” but he suggests she “may have directed her energies especially to other women” (797). We should “scarcely conclude” that either she or any of the other women mentioned in the context “exercised authority over men contrary to the Pauline admonition in 1 Tim. 2:12” (797). While this is one possible way of understanding the relationship between these two Pauline texts, certainly others will relate them differently.
On the whole Schreiner has provided us with a valuable commentary that deserves the attention of any careful exegete or preacher of the Scriptures, finding a place beside the excellent commentaries of Moo, Cranfield, Dunn and Fitzmyer.
Roy E. Ciampa
College of Evangelical Theological Education