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In a world of Romans commentaries, why buy one more? Or if you don’t have any, why buy this one? David Peterson, who was a senior research fellow and lecturer in New Testament at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia, was the Principal of Oak Hill Theological College, London for eleven years, and is an ordained minister of the Anglican Church of Australia, has written the third commentary in the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation series. This series focuses on discussing the themes of each biblical book and how it fits into the whole canon for Christian proclamation. This series doesn’t aim at producing dense, academic works, but rather to present Biblical theology to the lives of all of Christ’s body (you can find more information about the series in my review of Tom Schreiner’s Hebrews commentary).
Peterson’s introduction is short. He agrees with many of the conservative, consensus views. Although here he takes a new approach to the structure of Romans. He believes Paul alternates between confirming the gospel and defending the gospel against Jewish objections.
confirming….|… defending the gospel
.the gospel…..|….against Jewish objections
He presents the book of Romans as one long recursion (or chiasm), however I did not understand his recursive structure (given on p. 18).
Peterson offers almost 50 pages on the biblical and theological themes of Romans, writing about topics such as Romans and creation, sin, and judgment; God’s electing grace and Israel; Israel and the law; the gospel; the Scriptures; the Trinity; righteousness and justification; Israel and the church; and more.
Peterson helpfully explains the logic of Paul’s arguments, how the verbal forms of Greek explain Paul’s thinking, and how that helps the pastor understand Paul’s theology. For example, on Romans 6:9-10 Peterson says, “The connective γάρ (‘for’) introduces a supportive argument (v. 10), which prepares for Paul’s application in v. 11” (269). Though it’s one sentence, it easily shows the reader Paul’s line of thinking. And Peterson sprinkles these helpful statements liberally throughout his commentary. Peterson then adds, “The adverb ἐφάπαξ… highlights the power of his [Jesus’] achievement and its epoch-changing effect. His death was a completed event, but (lit.) ‘the life he lives, he lives to God’… Double use of the present tense stresses that his resurrection life has no end” (269).
Each new section begins with a brief summary of that section, the particular text from Romans, a section on the surrounding context, and the structure of the section. Peterson then goes verse by verse (sometimes two at a time) and sketches out Paul’s teaching.The BTCP series succeeds here where others series fail. All of this helps to situate the reader into the text and to orient him (or her) to his surroundings. Rather than having to read the previous ten pages to get a grip on the argument, the reader is quickly brought up to speed with each new section.
2.13: works are an indicator of genuine faith, and “doing the law” means obedience to Christ by faith.
2.14-15: Paul refers to Gentile Christians as having God’s law, now all Gentiles as somehow having God’s law on their hearts. Peterson says it would be very strange for Paul to coincidentally use the Jeremiah’s specific description of God’s law being written on one’s hearts while referring to all (unbelieving) Gentiles in general.
Work of the law: The singular ‘work‘ “signifies ‘the essential unity of the law’s requirements'” which God himself writes on his new covenant people (148).
Law to themselves: even though the Gentile Christians weren’t physically born into a community (as the Jews were) that had God’s law, they know God’s law and have an “earnest desire to obey it” (149).
Accusing or even excusing thoughts: the “evidence of honest self-assessment before God” (cf. 1 John 3.20), which ends on the day of the Lord (150). God judges the heart and our inner transformation.
3.22: διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ means “through faith in Jesus Christ” (188-190). Peterson says that πίστις often refers to “the faith of believers in general, both before (1:5, 8, 12, 17) and after this passage (3:27-4:25),” and Paul would have needed to add more contextual clues if he intended to say “through the faith/fulness of Jesus Christ.”
3.25: ἱλαστήριον should be understood as “propitiation.”
5.12: We are made sinners by the sinful act of Adam. Because of his sin, we come into this world alienated from God and spiritually dead. Peterson doesn’t delve into how we are made sinners through Adam.
11.25-27: The “Deliverer” who will come “from Zion” is Jesus the Messiah who came from the midst of God’s people. The new covenant benefits have come through this Messiah, benefits that are being proclaimed through Paul’s ministry. The “all Israel” who will be saved is the corporate people of Israel throughout history who hear the gospel and turn to Christ.
I would certainly recommend Peterson’s commentary to any teacher, paster, student, Bible study leader, etc. Having a commentary from the deep well of a biblical scholar that is easily accessible is uncommon, but it is a pleasure to read. It would serve you well to pick up anything by Peterson.
- Series: Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation
- Author: David Peterson
- Hardcover: 224 pages
- Publisher: B&H Academic (August 1, 2017)
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