October 06, 2008

Ben Witherington, Paul's Letter to the Romans (with Darlene Hyatt)

Ben Witherington is one of the most prolific New Testament scholars writing today, and he brings a great volume of learning to the texts. In this book, a "socio-rhetorical" commentary, he takes a careful look at Paul's letter to the Romans, paying special attention to the social setting of Paul and his readers, and also analyzing carefully Paul's rhetorical structure and flow. These two emphases make this book a bit different than many commentaries, in that they bring out these two facets of the text, but I think this makes his book the stronger for it. This well-written commentary does justice to this very important and theological letter, discussing the many important issues of interpretation, all the while keeping Paul's "rhetorical strategy" in view. This helps, in my estimation, to help keep sight of the forest among the trees, by placing particular verses and passages within the larger narrative flow, to help see the relations between the passages and their role in supporting his main argument or countering possible objections. This, in turn, helps keep Paul's main idea always in view.

Witherington, with the help of doctoral student Darlene Hyatt, also adds "Bridging the Horizons" sections that illumine applications of texts and themes to our modern day, a very helpful addition. It is certainly not a comprehensive "application" section, but it demonstrates one possible direction one could go when looking at a particular text, and some of them prove quite insightful.

Overall, I think this is a great book on Romans. Witherington's Methodist leanings certainly show through, as do any commentators, but I think this provides a refreshing, non-Reformed and non-Lutheran take on this letter that is still very balanced and seems to take into account Paul's major points with ease. While not the only book one could or should read on Romans (I'm sure there is no such thing), this book is a worthy addition to a library and makes for very good reading.

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