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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"Romans" (C. Marvin Pate)

TITLE: Romans (Teach the Text Commentary Series)
AUTHOR: C. Marvin Pate
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013, (368 pages).

Why do we need another commentary? There are already so many different commentaries through the centuries. Moreover, hundreds, even thousands of scholars and theologians have already written on Romans. How does the "Teach the Text Commentary series" add anything more to biblical commentaries? This question is something that has been seriously considered by the editors, publishers, and contributors to this brand new commentary series. Some of the rationale is as follows:

  • Yes, there are already many commentaries, but many are too technical for preaching purposes;
  • Others are written with scholarship in mind, more than from an application angle;
  • More direct help is needed to teaching and preaching the texts;
  • Updating the commentary with the latest and the best of scholarship material for each biblical book;
  • Provide a ready reference for exposition and use of the text;
  • ...

The video below has the general editors, John H Walton and Mark L Strauss who explain it well. They have even said no at first to a new commentary. Then they had a change of heart.

With a detailed plan to have commentaries from well qualified scholars and theologians, anchored by a very credible Christian publisher, the entire Bible will be covered. The commentary on Romans by C. Marvin Pate will kick start the whole series. Boy, it is a treasure chest of goodies to whet the appetite of any Bible reader, to delight any teacher or preacher, and to make readers thirst for more.

In this commentary on Romans, the author uses a five-part framework to deal with each pericope of the book of Romans. The first is a "Big Idea" introduction to the passage listed. It is important to note that it is the big idea from the Bible that drives both the reading as well as the commentary on the text. It reminds readers that the key to interpretation lies with what the text is saying, and not what the author is saying. Second, "Key Themes" are listed to give the preacher or teacher a grasp of some of the essential theological themes to remember. With this, users can put the message in point form, build a preaching framework or a teaching syllabus, and to help their hearers get a better grasp of the message. Third, "Understanding the Text" is the heavy lifting portion where typical exegesis and hermeneutics are employed to understand what the original texts mean. The historical and cultural backgrounds are examined. The structure of the passage is studied. The various interpretive and theological insights are introduced to let readers know about the breadth of understanding from different angles. Four, some of the teaching moments are explicitly mentioned, in case the busy reader happens to miss it. The author has placed this section in easy to read, point form manner, that it is extremely tempting to lift out the entire text in any person's preaching outline. Although plagiarism remains an ethical concern both inside the academy as well as outside, I figure that as long as the Word of God is powerfully preached and taught, it is a secondary concern. Credit goes to the author for making it easy to use and to apply, given the rigorous schedule for most pastors and preachers who need to deal with various demands throughout the week. Having said that, whoever uses this text, needs to find a way to share with their hearers where their material is from. In doing so, not only is one honouring the creators of this commentary series, one also honours God in giving credit to where credit is due. Finally, the illustrations section provides some ways in which preachers and teachers can bring in some real life examples to enliven the applications of the text. Most hearers remember stories and illustrations more than the texts themselves. It is hoped that the remembering of these illustrations will be a memory key toward the biblical text itself.

I find that the book of Romans is an excellent introduction to this new commentary series. Romans has been called the "Gospel of God through Paul." Beautiful in its usage of Greek, deep in its level of insight, and packed with theological truths and historical importance, the 5-part framework used not only helps readers to appreciate the overall flow of Romans, it energizes readers when it sheds light on how Romans is understood and can be applied. Every page is filled with thoughtful planning. Every table and illustration is appropriately placed to enlarge understanding, or to highlight its relevance to the overall flow. For instance, the map printed on the same page as Paul's historical travels not only highlights the different eras of the Roman Empire, it gives readers an idea of the cultural and the religious challenges Paul had to face. There are also links to other biblical books to help readers relate the Old Testament to the New Testament. One example is the table that shows how some scholars have made a parallel of Romans covenant structure and format with the Deuteronomy Hittite-treaty, and how the old and the new covenants are compared and contrasted in Romans.

The way the passages are selected has less to do with numbers and more to do with the themes of the epistle. At several sections, the author even introduces an additional chapter to highlight important rituals, sacraments, and history that the reader can benefit from.  Commentary texts are professionally matched with different colour fonts and tables. Diagrams and photos give the texts a living reality. Just as preachers and teachers often try to give hearers a memory device or a mneumonic framework for understanding, this book gives readers a powerful grasp of the text through brilliant colour, illustrations, and point-by-point explanation  of the background of the ancient world, and the modern applications possible. Difficult terms are explained, and with the layperson in mind, the book also highlights words that may be unfamiliar to the audience. Words like "parousia," themes like covenant, comparison between the old Jewish and the new Christian thinking, contrasting the curses and the blessings, the chosen people, even the historical development of the Reformation movement!

If I must do a critique, I will say that the diagrams and the illustrations can become a little too distracting. Worse, if it keeps the preacher more on the commentary and less on the actual biblical text itself, it may very well do the earnest Bible reader a disfavour. That said, the responsibility must eventually fall on the reader. Bearing this in mind, I must say this commentary series has very high potential to be a preachers' handbook for preaching and for teaching. Some of the illustrations used may not be universally applicable, but the point is moot. The illustrations themselves are simply examples on how the author will apply it. The preachers and teachers themselves need to do their own homework. After all, while the scholarship and the heavy lifting has been done on the text background, preachers and teachers need to do their own heavy lifting, of contextualizing what they have read for their own congregations or hearers. I look forward to the other volumes of this Teach the Text Commentary Series. The one on Romans is so well done that I cannot wait for the rest to be published.

If you are looking to refresh your Church or organization's library of commentary for preaching, make sure you check out this series.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Baker Books and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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