In two weeks I will conclude preaching a 26 week series through the book of Romans with our college group, Grizzly Christian Fellowship. The weight of Romans in regards to gospel understanding and New Testament theology can hardly be overstated. Part of the joyful burden of picking this book then, is wading through the countless resources created from and for this great letter.
Commentary work is the second to last stage of my sermon prep, and typically only comes after I have put together a brief outline of what I think the text is saying. Turning to commentaries then makes them more of discussion partners (a phrase I first heard David Helm use) rather than conversation starters. This prevents me from unknowingly relying too much on the work of others as well as forcing me to really wrestle in study and prayer before looking to other voices.
With that said good commentaries are an excellent resource and help for both the lay person and the pastor. Listed in order of helpfulness, here are some of the commentaries I found useful over the last few months.
- F.F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries
Coming in at just under 300 pages this is easily the most accessible commentary I used on Romans. Bruce does a good job outlining the flow of the book, and normally provides a page to two page summary of the teaching provided in each passage, spending only a small amount of time engaging in the actual exposition of each text. Rather than looking line by line at the text he tends to really focus on the core components of each specific passage. This contributes to the brevity of the book. If I were to recommend any of these commentaries to someone looking to read a commentary alongside their devotions, this would be it. In terms of preaching, I actually benefited more from Bruce’s book “Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free” than the commentary.
- Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans: NITC (1996)
If Bruce was the baby, Moo would be the boss. At nearly a thousand pages Moo is able to dive into much of Paul’s varied nuances in greater detail than the other books I used. I started out wanting to read the whole of this book along with my sermon prep, but only made it a couple months before I used it more as a reference work. Though I went to Moo the least out of any commentary, I went to him earlier than any other commentary. Moo’s interaction with translation issues and the Greek syntax was helpful and comprehensive. If I ever had a problem with nuanced aspects of translation, or came across a text with as broad scope of interpretation, Moo was first off my shelf. Moo also takes a lot of time unpacking aspects of Paul’s theology in Romans. These articles with the addition of Tom Schreiner’s Pauline theology helped shape my Pauline presuppositions more than anything else.
- John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans: NITC (Single Volume Edition, 1968)
I was given this commentary by a church member right around the time I got to Romans 9, and it easily became one of my favorites. I had actually never read Murray before, though I have his Redemption Accomplished and Applied sitting on my bookshelf. John Piper recently called this work “the most beautifully written commentary on the planet.” Murray is a good tweener between Bruce’s lighter commentary and Moo’s more technical piece. His writing is heavy at times, but very compelling. I especially loved his work on Romans 11. It is worth the price of admission alone.
- John Stott, The Message of Romans: The Bible Speaks Today Series
I have yet to find a commentary series I love more than The Bible Speaks Today. Inside that series, I have yet to find an author who combines devotional zeal, pastoral care and academic interaction better than John Stott. Stott brings the readability of Bruce and a condensed academic interaction into play in this fantastic book. He walks through some of the technical and muddy aspects of the Greek text with care and practical considerations. Stott’s work with Romans 8-12 is itself stellar, it helped me worship my way through much of my sermon writing process. Written in the mid 90’s, Stott’s is able to apply the text of Paul to culture in a way which almost seems prophetic looking back nearly 25 years later. A highly recommended contribution to the church.