Commentary collectors are an interesting sort. They’re not like other book owners. One might even describe them as the “introverts” of book lovers. Many avid readers build their libraries as a pastiche, and rightly pride themselves on the cosmopolitan character of their library. But habitual commentary readers value depth and pride themselves on an unrelenting concentration focused on Scripture. They will often own one or two volumes on every book of the Bible and will often fill entire book shelves with commentaries on a single biblical book. In fact, I know a guy who has over 30 commentaries on Romans alone.
Both of these groups should welcome Colin Kruse’s new book Paul’s Letter to the Romans, the latest edition to Eerdmans’ Pillar New Testament Commentary series. Why? Cosmopolitan readers are interested in learning about many things, but they aren’t necessarily interested in prolonged discussion of scholarly debates. Presumably when they purchase a commentary they will want to learn about the biblical book the commentary purports to explain. With Kruse that is exactly what they get–a sustained and thorough of the text that is crisp, explains the scholarly issues but does not over complicate or exhaust them, and that avoids inaccessible exegetical jargon. Kruse’s treatment of Romans 7.24 provides a noteworthy example:
7.24 Paul’s depiction of the war being waged between the law of the mind and the law of sin within the members of the ‘I’ leads him to add: What a wretched man that I am! To be ‘wretched’ is the opposite of being ‘blessed’. It means to be miserable, in mental or emotional turmoil. It is found in two places in the Wisdom of Solomon with similar connotations:
For those who despise wisdom and instruction are miserable. Their hope is vain, their labors are unprofitable, and their works are useless. (Wis. 3:11, italics added)
But miserable, with their hopes set on dead things, are those who give the name ‘gods’ to the works of human hands, gold and silver fashioned with skill, and likeness of animals, or a useless stone, the work of an ancient hand.
(Wis. 13.10, italics added)
The ‘wretchedness’ of the ‘I’ here consists in its being slavery to sin, a slavery from which it is unable to rescue itself. Hence we cry: Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? The expression, ‘this body that is subject to death’ (lit. ‘this body of death’), is an unusual one, found only here in Paul’s letters (and only here in the NT), although elsewhere in Romans the apostle speaks of the entailment of the body with sin; for example, in 6:6 he speaks of the body ‘ruled by sin’, and in 8:10 he says that the ‘body is subject to death because of sin’.
The longing of the ‘I’ depicted by Paul here in 7:24 is not a desire for release from the body per se (as if an incorporeal existence is desired), but rather deliverance from slavery to sin even while, for the present, continuing in bodily existence. The cry of ‘I’ is the cry of the Jewish people under the law, here depicted by a Jew who was once under the law but is so no longer.
This section aptly demonstrates why Kruse’s work will also be appealing to both audiences. First the focus is squarely on explaining the text, and after all that’s why most folks pick-up a commentary, right? Kruse is swift and succinct in his writing–but direct, clear, and accessible. He obviously draws on external primary sources and, as the footnotes to this section reveal, modern scholarship; but the latter is optional reading and the former is used to illuminate the text–not determine its meaning. Thus Kruse’s method will be interesting to commentary readers, while his content will appeal to all readers–even those who do not work regularly with the text.
This is why I have dubbed this commentary a “workman’s commentary”: it is written for those people who want to work through the text of Romans–and stay focused on it– in a (very) serious manner. The cosmopolitan reader, as I have called them, along with the commentary connoisseur will find much to benefit from, whether it is a refreshing exposition of the text rather than prolonged concentration on academic debates, or whether one simply wants to broaden their horizon of learning–Kruse’s Romans is exactly what you are looking for.