Romans. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament VI

Edited by Gerald Bray

InterVarsity Press, 1998 | ISBN 0-8308-1491-4

Reviewed by Merle Harton, Jr.

This is the second published entry in an ambitious 27-volume series that encompasses all of Old and New Testament Scripture through commentary and key writings by the early church fathers. With the aid of contemporary computer technology, the editors are able to include from the patristic writers' vast corpus relevant commentary on key passages and topics. The result here—as also the final goal of this ecumenical series—is a broad exegesis of Scripture written specifically for an interdenominational audience of lay, pastoral, and scholarly readers.

Few scholars dispute that the epistle to the Romans, to the church in the capital of the Roman Empire, was written by the apostle Paul. Probable dates figure the letter to date at about 55-57 AD. It is one of his longest letters and contains distinctive Pauline positions within a "philosophy of Christianity." The letter is also critical to our understanding of salvation through Christ.

Here Paul discusses the role of Jews and Gentiles within a unified Christian community, as united by faith. Here we find his vigorous declarations on "justification" and the view that we are brought into a right relationship with God through faith. We find here a lively defense of tolerance and of individual accountability before the Lord in worship preferences. Here, too, he discusses the importance of personal holiness, which was something well-known to Jews, but generally foreign to Gentiles. Romans also contains the controversial position that it is the duty of all Christians to submit to secular authorities, for these have been appointed by God. Of course, there is also the issue of election and predestination, which figured in the controversy between Augustine and Pelagius, and was later revived in Wyclif and by Luther and Calvin, among others.

Commentators have also found it rich in thought. Origen wrote 15 books on this one epistle. John Chrysostom wrote 32 homilies that together make up a verse-by-verse exposition of Paul's letter. Both commentators are represented in this book.

Using the Revised Standard Version translation, Bray has arranged the epistle into distinct passages, usually several verses in length, and then follows that with pertinent commentary by: Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius of Emesa, Acacius of Caesarea, Ambrosiaster, Diodore of Tarsus, Apollinaris of Laodicea, Didymus the Blind of Alexandria, Severian of Gabala, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and thirty-eight others. Also represented here are the heretic Pelagius and Augustine, who was himself lead to conversion after reading Romans 13:13-14.

Bray's edition is exceedingly well-done. He includes a carefully arranged introduction to Paul's letter, giving it adequate context so that we can understand not only its authorship and date, but also its historical and theological importance. He spends time, too, on the patristic commentators, their dates and extant works, and why they were chosen to speak in this volume. The end result of his labors is a rich exegesis of an important document in the Christian corpus. Some of these commentaries are rare, many exist only in fragments, others are available here for the first time in English, but all demonstrate the enduring power of Paul's words in later reflection and Spirit-led study.

Copyright © 1999 by Merle Harton, Jr.

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