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longenecker romans

Richard N. Longenecker recently released his new commentary on Romans in the NIGTC series. I got my copy in the mail not too long ago and have been slowly working through it (it’s a mammoth 1,086 pages of commentary!). Below I list some of my own observations by way of a quick critical review.

There is virtual consensus among Pauline scholars that Romans is structured with four clearly distinguishable sections: chs. 1-4, chs. 5-8, chs. 9-11, chs. 12-16. Further, commentators will typically emphasize one particular section as being the heart of Romans. Sometimes, but not always, the emphasis given to a particular section is correlate with that commentator’s theological persuasions; e.g., those who understand justification in juridical terms will focus on Rom 1-4, those who focus more on participationist categories will look to Rom 5-8, etc. While Longenecker certainly doesn’t ignore the juridical category, he does understand chs. 5-8 to be the essence, and primary thrust, of Romans. This preference is reflected in statements like the following (pg. 566):

What he appears to be doing in 5:9-11 is attempting to convince his addressees that there is much more to to the Christian gospel than simply the forensic doctrine of justification ‘by the blood of Christ'(εν τω αιματι αυτου) or ‘through the death of God’s Son’ (δια του θανατου του υιου αυτου) — as important as that emphasis is in Christian proclamation. What also needs to be considered and experienced is what Christ has effected on behalf of those who respond to him by faith in terms of the ‘personal,’ ‘relational,’ and ‘participatory’ theme of reconciliation. 

Longenecker’s primary dialogue partners are C.K. Barret, C.E.B Cranfield, James D. G. Dunn, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Robert Jewett, Ernst Käsemann, Douglas J. Moo, Arthur C. Headlam, and William Sanday. It is true that, even for a commentary over a thousand pages, one has to be selective about who to engage with while interpreting particular texts. Nevertheless, I was quite surprised that N.T. Wright’s commentary on Romans (NIB series vol. 10) did not even make it into the bibliography! It would’ve been interesting to see more dialogue between the two. 

On the other hand, Longenecker shows an impressive familiarity with ancient sources. He regularly interacts with writings from the Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, early Christian writings, as well as Classical / Hellenistic sources. His textual criticism is thorough, often giving several pages of discussion to variants and the respective mss. involved. It appears that he relies primarily on Bruce Metzger’s Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament for text critical dialogue, though Longenecker is by no means dependent on Metzger for his conclusions (e.g., Rom 5:1, Longnecker reads the subjunctive εχωμεν as original contra. Metzger who takes Paul to have dictated εχομεν for which Tertius wrote εχωμεν). 

Unlike some commentaries which seem to comment more on previous commentaries, Longenecker strikes an even balance between engagement with previous interpreters and the text of Romans itself. (This despite my personal judgement that engagement with some important contemporary interpreters were often left out of his discussions at key points)

His sections throughout on Biblical Theology and Contextualization for Today were sometimes helpful and sometimes confusing. It may have proved helpful to have an explanation on how he intended these sections to function within the structure of his commentary. At times they were combined into a single section under one heading. 

Now some grist for the mill…

 Regarding the background of ευαγγελιον in 1:1, Longenecker, following Käsemann and Stuhlmacher, rejects any counterimperial resonances in the word (see pgs. 58-61). 

Contrast N.T. Wright who, while not denying the primary significance of the OT for understanding the word, sees a counterimperial resonance as unavoidable for believers living in the heart of the Roman Empire: 

In Paul’s Jewish world, the word looked back to Isa 40:9 and 52:7, where a messenger was to bring to Jerusalem the good news of Babylon’s defeat, the end of Israel’s exile, and the personal return of YHWH to Zion. In the pagan world Paul addressed, the same Greek word referred to the announcement of the accession or the birthday of a ruler or emperor. Here already we find Paul at the interface of his two worlds. His message about Jesus was both the fulfillment of prophecy, as v. 2 indicates, and the announcement of one whose rule posed a challenge to all other rulers. 

[Wright, Romans, 415-416]

I can’t imagine Paul being ignorant about the possibility of his readers (or listeners) in Rome thinking of both Isaiah’s ευαγγελιον and also Caesar’s ευαγγελιον. Therefore, in this instance I find Wright’s position more appealing. 

Longenecker has the following excurses (although they are unhelpfully absent from the Table of Contents and Index): 

  • “The Righteousness of God” and “Righteousness” in Paul (168-176)

  • Three exegetical and thematic matters in Rom 3:25a that are of particular importance (though also frequently disputed) and therefore deserving of special consideration (425-432)

  • “The law,” “Works of the law,” and “The New Prespective” (362-370)

  • Paul’s message of reconciliation (566-570)  

  • Paul’s use of “In Christ Jesus” and its Cognates (686-694)

  • On the terms for “Remnant” in the OT Scriptures (MT and LXX), as well as the use of “Remnant” in the Rabbinic tractates of formative Judaism and the Jewish nonconformist writings of the first centuries B.C. (803-810) 

In sum, Longenecker has given us an excellent commentary, though not without some quibbles. He is an accomplished scholar who has given us much to think about for Romans. This is not just a rehearsal of previous positions on old debates. Longenecker often has creative new solutions of his own, even if not always convincing. Even in areas where I found myself disagreeing with his conclusions he always gives excellent material to work with (or to disagree with). He is a clear writer. This commentary will certainly be one of the first Romans commentaries I pull of the shelf when in need.