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Millions of books (or something near to it) have been written on the book of Romans, yet Andrew Naselli has managed to write “a concise guide to the greatest letter ever written,” showing Paul’s theology and flow of thought in just under 200 pages. In his introduction, Naselli writes that Paul is the author, he probably wrote while in Corinth sometime around AD 57. Paul wrote to churches in Rome which had both Gentile and Jewish believers. Naselli sees a few reasons behind Paul’s purpose of writing Romans:
- Paul applies lessons from his recent conflicts in Galatia and Corinth;
- he prepares for the looming crisis in Jerusalem;
- he wants to secure a missionary base for his work in Spain;
- he wants to unify the church in Rome around the gospel;
- he defends his theology against accusation that he is anti-law and anti-Jewish (23).
The theological message of Romans is: “The gospel reveals how God is righteously righteousing (i.e., justifying) unrighteous individuals—both Jews and Gentiles—at this stage in the history of salvation.
How does that happen? By faith in Christ apart from the law covenant.
Why does that happen? Ultimately for God’s glory” (23–24).
The word gospel is prominent in the introduction and conclusion of Romans, and Romans 1:16–17 states the letter’s theme. What did Jesus do? He “lived, died, and rose again for sinners“—God’s solution to our predicament (24).
Naselli divides Romans into seven sections, mostly centered around the theme of righteousness:
- Introduction (1:1–17)
- The Universal Need for God’s Righteousness (1:18–3:20)
- The Means of Obtaining God’s Righteousness (3:21–4:25)
- Benefits of Obtaining God’s Righteousness (5:1–8:39)
- The Vindication of God’s Righteousness (9:1–11:36)
- Living in Light of God’s Righteousness (12:1–15:13)
- Conclusion (15:14–16:27)
Naselli’s style is clear and understandable. He writes that his book is “basically Moo-lite or Schreiner-lite, with an emphasis on tracing Paul’s argument and designed for Bible study” (199). Douglas Moo and Tom Schreiner’s commentaries on Romans are excellent, but they’re both massive. Both aim at explaining Paul’s theology and his flow of thought. Naselli did his own exegetical work in order to write this book, but he falls in line with many of the exegetical decisions of Schreiner and Moo.
In regards to some of Naselli’s interpretive conclusions, he writes:
2:14–16. Gentiles have God’s law, and Paul is either referring to “(1) non- Christian Gentiles do part of the law, or (2) Christian Gentiles fulfill the law because they are in Christ” (46). Both options show proof that God does not justify people based on their works.
7:7–25. Who is the “I” of Romans 7? Naselli agrees with Will Timmins that the “I” Paul writes of is “a believer in Christ who confesses an ongoing, Adamic, anthropological condition of fleshliness” (92). Yet regardless of whether you agree with Naselli, the main point of this section is that God’s good and holy law “has been turned into an instrument of sin because of the weakness and sinful tendencies of people” (93). It cannot deliver us from sin and death, and those who look to it for salvation will only experience frustration.
11.25–27. After giving three different views for the meaning of “all Israel,” Naselli opts for the third option: “God will save a significant number of ethnic Israelites when Christ returns” (144). “All Israel” will be saved in the future after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. If God is saving numerous Gentiles now due to Israel’s fall, imagine what blessings will come when they are restored—”life from the dead” (Rom 11:15), that is, the resurrection. Naselli doesn’t mention why “all Israel” means only “a significant number of ethnic Israelites.”
I think Naselli’s book will be helpful for pastors and teachers because it helps them hone into Paul’s flow of thought. Romans is Paul’s longest letter, and it’s easy to lose the plot here. Naselli does a very good job at helping you follow where Paul has been, what he is saying now, and where he is going (and he does so through a Baptistic Reformed lens). This wouldn’t work as a sole Bible study tool, simply because Naselli doesn’t look at every verse. Sometimes he does, and oftentimes he groups verses together and presents Paul’s main idea. Since this book is so short, it makes it possible to easily read through Romans with this on the side. If you have worked through Romans and would like some help on understanding Paul’s overall idea, I would encourage you to pick this up.
- Author: Andrew David Naselli
- Paperback: 231 pages
- Publisher:Crossway (August 16, 2022)
- Read Chapter 1
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Disclosure: I received this book free from Crossway. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.