This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2009 vol. 166 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Romans: A CommentaryFortress Press, Minneapolis November 1, 2006
No book in the New Testament can match the attention Romans has received from commentators, beginning with Origen (ca. 225) and continuing to the present day. Within the last thirty years several excellent commentaries have appeared in English, including those by Cranfield (1979), Dunn (1988), Fitzmyer (1993), Moo (1996), and Schreiner (1998), to name a few. Interpreters will find this commentary by Jewett another useful reference work for understanding Paul’s letter.
In addition to using the basic methods of historical-critical exegesis Jewett considers the rhetorical features of the letter (with frequent reference to E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible Explained and Illustrated) in the context of the social and cultural characteristics of the Greco-Roman world. The commentary is based on the Greek text. However, Greek references are accompanied by translations, and Jewett usually explains technical terms and methods so that those without training in exegesis will find the commentary a great help as well. He even explains briefly the eclectic method of textual criticism (pp. 12–14) before noting the instances in which he differs from the Nestle-Aland 27th edition of the Greek New Testament. Notable among his divergences is his view that Romans 5:1 should read, “let us have peace with God,” rather than “we have peace with God.” Also he accepts as original the benediction in 16:24 (“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen”). Jewett views 16:17–20a and 16:25–27 as interpolations (pp. 985–1011). Given his doubts about their authenticity, it is not surprising that he finds the message of these verses antithetical to the spirit and tone of the letter as a whole.
Jewett also presents a theory about the social structure of house and “tenement” churches in Rome (pp. 59–72). He thinks churches in apartment blocks might have been as small as between ten and twenty people and a house church only slightly larger (with between thirty and forty people). Besides the one house church Paul mentioned (hosted by Aquila and Priscilla, 16:5), Jewett speculates that numerous small tenement churches existed in Rome. He attempts to show at various points how certain passages (e.g., 13:8–10, instruction for a communal meal) should be interpreted in relation to this situation. Building interpretation on the speculative social setting of numerous tenement churches will probably not persuade most interpreters that Jewett’s reading of 13:8–10, for example, is correct.
Another portion of this commentary that will strike many readers as odd is its brief discussion on “The Religious Orientation of the Roman Congregations” (pp. 72–74), in which he discounts the notion that Paul’s use of the term pneu'ma refers to “a person of the Trinity” (p. 73). Instead he thinks references to the “spirit” should be read in light of Greco-Roman popular religion that linked pneu'ma to “miracle-working and with manic, enthusiastic inspiration that could sometimes lead to irrational, amoral actions” (p. 73). He notes that pneu'ma is discernible “from external phenomena . . . esp. miraculous healings . . . ecstatic prayer . . . and prophetic speech” (ibid.). One would have thought the commentary on Romans 8 would reflect this “history of religions” approach, but it is distinctly downplayed. Even in 8:26, a verse where those looking for glossolalia usually find it (e.g., Käsemann and Fee), Jewett thinks the link is “unlikely” (p. 523). A source critic would probably conclude that on this point the introduction and commentary had different authors. Jewett’s view that Paul’s mission to Spain is the main reason for the letter is surely correct, and he has some cogent remarks on the role of Phoebe in laying the groundwork for this venture as well (pp. 89–91).
On debated matters Jewett provides an unflinching discussion about homosexuality in Romans 1, giving more detail than some readers may care to know on the subject (pp. 172–81). He comes down in favor of the objective genitive in 3:22 for “faith in Christ” (pp. 275–78), and he thinks 11:26 looks forward to the salvation of ethnic Israel (p. 700).
The book has a few minor problems, notably the deletion of a page in the “works cited” section (pp. xxxv–lxx). Instead of page xliv, page lxiv is printed, giving the reader two pages of Siker to Strobel but deleting authors between Epp and Fridrichsen. The addition of an erratum page would be welcome until a subsequent printing can correct this omission.
All in all this is a very helpful commentary that no interpreter of Romans can afford to neglect.
—David K. Lowery