Book Review of Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary: Romans
Reviewing a commentary on Romans feels almost as intimidating as preaching through the book of Romans, and I can only imagine how intimidating it would be to write a commentary on Paul’s revered treatise. So it is with trepidation and empathy that I offer my review of Romans: Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary (EBTC) by David G. Peterson.
Among the many commentaries on Romans available (I just counted over twenty between what I have on my shelves and digital library), this one stands out with its promise of biblical theology in addition to the standard exegetical treatment. According to the preface, the commentaries in this series each provide “a thorough discussion of the most important themes of the biblical books in relation to the canon as a whole.” So what does this look like in practice?
Peterson gives us forty-nine pages of “Biblical and Theological Themes.” There are fourteen themes divided into two categories. The first category traces the unfolding salvation-historical trajectory whole the second includes topics Peterson views as core themes in Romans not covered by the first. I’ve listed each below.
1 Romans and the Story Line of the Bible
1.1 Creation, Sin, and Judgment
1.2 God’s Promise to Abraham and His Offspring
1.3 Israel and God’s Electing Grace
1.4 Israel and the Law
1.5 Israel’s Failure and God’s Judgment
1.6 Promises of Ultimate Deliverance
2 Other Significant Themes
2.1 The Gospel
2.2 The Scriptures
2.3 God as Trinity
2.4 Righteousness and Justification
2.5 Israel and the Church
2.6 Worship, Sanctification, and Holy Living
2.7 Apostolic Ministry
Peterson traces the development of each theme throughout both the book of Romans and situates it within its biblical context as a whole by citing texts from outside of Romans. This section will now be one I consult anytime I find myself preaching a passage from Romans that falls under one of these themes. My only critique would be the treatment of God as Trinity (2.3). Peterson rightly says, “Fundamentally, Romans is about God!” (57). Perhaps Father, Son, and Spirit should each have their own theme while also including a shortened theme on Trinity.
The commentary itself is quite good. It is evangelical and conservative, yet broad in its use of sources. And the author strikes a healthy balance between explaining the meaning of the text and addressing helpful points of grammar, syntax, discourse considerations, textual criticism, and lexical semantics. It is innovative in regards to analyzing the structure of Romans. Peterson understands the epistle to alternate between two types of material: confirmation of the gospel and defence of the gospel. The epistle hinges on Rom. 6 where Paul moves from justification and salvation through Christ to the obligations this places on those justified and saved (15). The author understands Paul to be both expounding the gospel and working to gain their support for missionary work. Given Peterson’s analysis of structure, on the question of whether he reads Romans as soteriological or ecclesiological, I would say he manages to balance both emphases.
There is something else that stood out to me about this commentary. The author mentions it in the acknowledgments and I reflected on it as I read his work. He says this (please forgive the lengthy quotation, but at least read the final sentence):
After a lifetime of teaching and preaching from Romans, I have had the opportunity to work again through Paul’s most elaborate letter, conversing with a representative range of contemporary commentators and other scholars, moving from Greek exegesis, through theological analysis, to suggestions for exposition. The literature on Romans and the theological issues are so extensive that no commentator can read and interact with everything involved. Difficult decisions had to be made about what to include and what to exclude….My focus has ultimately been on the text rather than on scholarly debates about the text, and I have spent many hours reflecting on the theological significance and contemporary relevance of Paul’s arguments (xv).
It’s this care for the text of Paul’s magnum opus that makes this a commentary I will want to use. I love scholarship and theological creativity, but it’s easy to lose sight of Scripture for scholarly debate. This commentary does not ignore key issues, but it is not fixated on them or driven by them. In other words, Peterson recognizes that there is more to Romans than the “new perspective” and the “Romans debate.”
This is an accessible commentary written at the semi-technical level. It would be excellent for the pastor looking for a thoughtful study of Romans. It is also worth noting that the English translation of the Bible used throughout this commentary is the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). This is a translation I’ve grown to appreciate very much. And anyone who preaches out of the CSB should most certainly take advantage of such thorough interaction with this version.
Special thanks to Lexham Press for a free review copy of this book. This did not affect my thoughts in any way so far as I’m aware.