vrijdag 1 februari 2013

Review of: D.J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT), Eerdmans, 1996

D.J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT), Eerdmans, 1996

Review in: Pacifica 1998 11: 211
Review door: Brendan Byme, S. J.
Gevonden op: http://paa.sagepub.com/content/11/2/211.full.pdf+html

DOUGLAS J. MOO, The Epistle to the Romans. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan/ Cambridge, U. K.: Eerdmans, 1996. ISBN 080282317. Pp. xxvi + 1012. Rrp. U.S.$50.00

This one-volume commentary on Romans has the physical dimensions of a brick. Is there still a place for one-thousand-page commentaries of this kind, even on major biblical documents? Comparison with the dinosaurs and their fate is well-worn but obvious. Nonetheless, as editor Gordon Fee explains in a preface, it was time after thirty years to find a replacement for John Murray’s commentary on Romans, in continuity with the decidedly Reformed theological stance of the New International Commentary series as a whole.

Within the framework of this goal the editor has chosen well in Douglas Moo. Where the sheer bulk of the work might presage a commentary of tiresome long-windedness, actual reading soon dispels this impression. The text is engaging and unfailingly clear. Topics arise for discussion according to an order and logic that is easy to discern. More difficult to achieve, as anyone who has attempted a commentary will know, is striking a right balance between what to put in the main commentary and what to place in the notes. Moo’s choice in this respect has been consistently judicious, greatly aided by the physical layout of the commentary with the notes located as genuine footnotes at the bottom of each page. The result is a highly readable text where necessary discussion of detail never impedes the basic flow of the comment.

The commentary is written unashamedly and avowedly from a strong theological perspective. Granted the nature of Romans, this is surely something to be applauded. At the same time, while the Evangelical tone is patent on every page, there is a remarkable ”catholicity” about the immense ”cover” of the secondary literature that Moo provides and a calm, unruffled courtesy in the way opinions ultimately to be rejected are presented and discussed.

There are also some surprises in the shape of departures from what might be considered interpretations typical of the Evangelical approach. Moo considers at length and ultimately rejects the ”New Perspective” on Paul and the law as represented, in somewhat different forms, by E.P. Sanders and J. D. G. Dunn, but does not go over completely to the ”hard Lutheran” interpretation of Bultmann and his school where even the performance of the law is already sin. With U. Wilckens, S. Westerholm and others, Moo holds that Paul’s pessimistic view of life under the law stemmed from factual human incapacity to keep its precepts rather than from any inherent wrongfulness in law‑keeping as such.

Perhaps the most striking departure from the strong Reformed tradition would be the view that the anguished plight of the ”I” in 7:14-25 reflects not the situation of the Christian but that of Paul, looking back from his Christian perspective, to the situation of himself and other Jews living under the law of Moses.

Such departures remain, however, exceptional. Though alternatives are given extended and courteous consideration, the commentary consistently returns by and large to a very conservative evangelical perspective: a ”propitiatory” view of the death of Christ in 3:25 (following, it must be admitted, an excellent discussion); a strongly ”substitutionary” interpretation of the same with respect to 8:4 and, horror of horrors for this reviewer, the full blast of ”double predestination” in regard to The ”hardening” Paul portrays here, then, is a sovereign act of God that is not caused (italics original) by anything in those individuals who are hardened. And 9:22-23 and 11:7 suggest that the outcome of the hardening is damnation ..... just as God decides on the basis of nothing but his own sovereign pleasure, to bestow his grace and so save some individuals, so he also decides, on the basis of nothing but his own sovereign pleasure, to pass over others and so to damn them (p. 598).

How so reasonable a Christian believer as Moo otherwise appears to be can, in the late twentieth century, believe in and see fit to commend to others so monstrous a view of God is inconceivable to me. How would anyone want to believe in - let alone love - such a deity, reflecting more the amoral capriciousness of an ancient despot or a modern Pol Pot than the God emerging from the Gospel proclamation of Jesus? Even were such a doctrine to be found in Paul - and I would strongly argue that it is not, since, pace Moo, Paul is primarily concerned with the situation (and not necessarily the final situation at that) of communities (Jews and Gentiles) rather than individuals -then it surely belongs to aspects of his thought that a genuine hermeneutic would leave firmly behind as belonging to unacceptable and unessential elements in the apocalyptic worldview of his time, having nothing to do with the timeless core of the gospel. If otherwise great interpreters such as Augustine and Calvin read this in or out of Paul, then, in this respect at least, they were simply wrong and deserve to be disregarded.

We touch here on the fundamental flaw in the entire approach of this commentary. It simply cannot escape from a literalist resumption holusbolus of the apocalyptic framework of Paul’s thought and argument. Salvation, damnation, judgement, the second coming -they are all there with no re-examination of what they might mean in a contemporary preaching of the gospel ranging beyond the Evangelical frame of discourse. No doubt this work will be become the standard commentary on Romans in Evangelical circles. The pity is that, excellent though it is in many respects, it will not stimulate ”true believers’’ within that tradition to move in any way beyond where they began.

Brendan Byme, S. J.,
Jesuit Theological College,
United Faculty of Theology,

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