With so many highly acclaimed and in depth commentaries on Romans around, I was unsure what this particular volume might add to the discussion. The Tyndale Series is a relatively short paperback series, and sits midway between a scholarly and a devotional focus. The format of this volume is that the text of Romans is dealt with in blocks of around 12 verses at a time. Bruce first tries to summarise Paul’s flow of argument in his own words, and then deals with matters specific to individual verses, and although he touches on most verses, it is usually only one key phrase in each verse that he will discuss. The summaries are very helpful though, as they enable the reader to get a good grasp of the main message of the book.
In the introduction, Bruce warns against modernizing Paul, insisting rather that a man of Paul’s calibre must be allowed to speak for himself. He also discusses the evidence concerning whether chapters 15 and 16 formed part of the original letter. He sees no compelling reason to doubt that chapter 16 could have been written to the Roman church. There are some useful definitions of terms such as flesh, spirit and law. The introduction ends with a very brief paraphrase of the whole letter, which is a great way of explaining what the main themes and argument of the book are.
The brevity of the commentary means that some controversial issues are not discussed at all, while others (such as the “New Perspective”) are mentioned only in passing. He does however take the time to reject the idea that the wrath of God is merely “impersonal”. He shows how Paul is concerned to demonstrate that God can justify the ungodly whilke remaining righteous himself.
He views the “I” of Romans 7 as basically autobiographical, but through it Paul is speaking of universal human experience. It describes the conflict of living in the overlap of the old age and the age to come. It speaks of life under the law without the aid of the Spirit. It also paints a picture of fighting under our own resources – and fighting a losing battle. In these broad terms he manages to encompass pretty much every view of Rom 7 I have come across.
He suggests that to be “in Christ” essentially means to be in the church – the body of Christ, and to “put on Christ” is to emulate his character. He discusses the relationship between glory and suffering in a number of places. Suffering is viewed as the normal Christian experience, and glory is not the compensation, but the outcome of that suffering.
Chapter 9 is not a parenthesis but a theodicy, and it is here that he briefly mentions Sanders and covenantal nomism. Bruce prefers to think of Paul as opposing salvation by works, but adds that he would be equally opposed to seeking salvation by the ‘old’ covenant.
Chapters 12 onwards are introduced as the ethical outworking of the doctrine of earlier chapters, and Bruce points out the similarities with Jesus’ teaching. He speaks of Paul being so free that he was not “in bondage to his emancipation” (i.e. he was free to do the things he was free not to do).
This is not by any means an exhaustive commentary on Romans, but it is an instructive one, and will shed fresh light on different passages. It is probably still a bit heavy-going for the general reader who is not accustomed to using commentaries, but those who want to get a better grasp of Romans without having to read a massive volume may like to give this a try. I still prefer Stott’s commentary for readability and Moo’s for comprehensiveness, but am glad I took the time to read this one too.