Romans 1-8 (Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 38A) Hardcover – 1 Jan 1988
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The Word Biblical Commentary series tries to address both of the latter two audiences. The commentaries provide assistance to scholars, preachers, and other serious students of the Bible.
Word imposes a rigid format. Authors must begin each passage with a bibliography, followed by a translation with notes on the Greek manuscripts. Next there is a "form and structure" section which discusses grammatical and thematic links with other passages and calls attention to the literary techniques employed by the biblical author. Next there is a "comment" section which is quite detailed, allowing some room for interaction with other scholars. Finally there is an "explanation" section, which summarizes the message of the text without repeating all the technical details.
Word's format inevitably introduces some repetition. For busy preachers, the trick is to zero in on the explanation section. Preachers will value the other sections of the commentary when there is a theological or textual problem which merits closer examination.
Dunn's commentary succeeds brilliantly at both levels. Dunn is a leading authority in Pauline studies. His "new perspective on Paul" builds on the work of E. P. Sanders and has attracted the attention of scholars including N. T. Wright. He is bound to have his academic audience in mind at points in a commentary on Romans.
But Dunn also put a great deal of thought into the explanation section of this work. He describes his approach in the author's preface. When he began to write, he concentrated on the explanation section of chapters 1-11 for two years. During that time, he restricted himself to only a few technical aids, in order to maintain a focus on the broad message of Romans rather than the technical details primarily of interest to scholars.
The result is a reference book that any serious student of the New Testament will find helpful. Many readers will read only the explanation section most of the time. But the Word commentaries are relatively inexpensive, so Dunn's two volumes on Romans are still good value for the money.
This is the first volume of the WBC that I have ever tried. Therefore, I cannot speak for the series. This particular volume is very helpful. The author (James Dunn) does an outstanding job of listing all his references. He provides a survey of the opinions of a multitude of Bible scholars, before offering his own opinion. This is precisely how a commentator should write a commentary. Even though I do not agree with every conclusion that Dunn makes, I very much appreciate the amount of work which went into this volume.
For those of you are familiar with the EBC (Expositor's Bible Commentary), the WBC (Word Biblical Commentary) on Romans has more survey of what other writers have said and less analysis of the Greek words. Both commentaries are useful and both have their shortcomings. If you are a full-time preacher (or professor) and have time to read all the original source materials from commentator throughout the ages, this volume might not be for you. However, for the rest of us, this volume is a wonderful source of (a) seeing what other commentators have said (b) gaining a less linguistically analytical view of the Greek text and (c)being challenged to think about Dunn's comments.
Do I recommend this book? Yes, but only for those people who are going to go read Romans first, and then read this commentary.
Dunn errs in regard to Paul's contrast in 3:5 ("our unrighteousness" vs. "God's righteousness"). He comments that this confirms 'its strong covenant significance for Paul as denoting God's action in favor of His people.' p 134 According to Douglas Moo what is actually under discussion is 'God's faithfulness to His person and word, particularly as verse 4b reveals' (Romans, p 190). God's response to sin does not nullify His attribute or His commitment to His Word, for God cannot deny Himself or His Word. Professor John Murray made a similar call, one that finds God acting for His own sake: 'our unbelief of the promises does not make void God's faithfulness' (Romans 1:96).
Dunn goes toe-to-toe with 'generations of commentators'. He mocks their exegesis of 3:20 as completely missing the point, directing the charge at 'Reformation exegesis [which] largely missed...the hidden middle term.' p 159 I would like to put Dunn's statement to the test - why 'hidden'? Because his exegesis, which I will not give honorable mention, is not in the text; nor can it by good and necessary consequence be validated from the text. He then teases out NPP dogmas from the text, making critical errors in exegesis along the way. At an early stage in this commentary the WBC abandons its mandate as a Word-based, biblical commentary series. The result? Dunn's ambitious stab 'which actually serves as the basic theological underpinning of the whole argument' (p 158) suffers defeat by his own hand.
In answering a single theological issue Dunn manages to raise more thorny questions. So Dunn posits: 'This is confirmed by the twofold distinction implicit by reference to ch 2: "works of the law" are not the same as doing the law' (p 158). This view has some historical merit, but the proper distinction is that Paul's fight was neither against legalism, nor against the Law per se, but against the Law as a means unto salvation. More specifically, using justification by the Law of Moses as a basis for gaining righteousness by works (3:20 - so Calvin). Paul stood for salvation by grace alone, and guarded against doing away with God's moral law as revealed in the Law. Yet, withal, Dunn continues with 2nd Temple Judaism interpolations: "Without the law" (3:21) then means outside the national and religious parameters set by the law, without reference to the normal Jewish hallmarks.' p 165 It is this substratum of the law which 'maintains his identity and status as a member of God's people...that Paul seeks to destroy' (p 177).
Dunn does not do a whole lot to promote the work of Christ in this crucial passage of Scripture. In his outline the antecedent "the righteousness of God" struggles to find its complement "in Christ Jesus" (3:22). He says "through faith" (3:25) should probably be taken as a parenthesis and "in Christ Jesus" (3:25) here has God as referent (p 172). When it does connect it is on account of 'man's faith' (p 177) ), and though his insights into it being God's rich gift are willingly admitted, "through faith" (3:25) is again downed as a Paulinism (p 181). Though Dunn insists that "to demonstrate the righteousness of God" (3:25) should not be forced into categories, he does precisely this, lobbying for the subjective genitive interpretation (God's 'action' on behalf of His people, p 173). His NPP colleague, NT Wright, prefers the possessive genitive (it refers to God's faithfulness). Both views are wrong. Richard Longenecker, in his upcoming commentary on Romans, will no doubt espouse the third and correct view, that of justification by God's righteousness as a forensic declaration (genitive of source). Interestingly enough this view would have been better suited to Dunn and Wright's imagery of the law court (p 165).
What does "in Christ Jesus" then really spell out for Jimmy Dunn? His lengthy discussion on Romans 6:3 makes clear that Paul's understanding of baptism "into Christ Jesus" was influenced by the rites of the mystery cults. New devotees were initiated into some form of hierarchy: access to the lofty gods only came through contact with some lesser deity. According to Dunn's crack at reconstructing the existing text along similar lines by inductions from the pagan culture of the day, God could only be accessed through Jesus by the rite of baptism. Dunn posits as an alternative Spirit-baptism (p 328) which is equally implausible and does not fit the context. His half-heartedness in dealing with Paul's definitive conception of the believer's union with Christ in His redemptive death is hardly surprising.