The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Mar 25, 2016

Some positive thoughts on Stanley Porter's new Romans commentary

To give this a bit more weight, I'll confess that I'm not the greatest Stanley Porter fan: whenever he and Daniel Wallace go head to head on Greek grammar, verbal aspect, etc., I generally side with 
Wallace (plus, my one Filologia Neotestamentaria article [2010, vol. 23] pushes against Porter's views a bit). Having said that, I do appreciate much of his work: for example, I have my NT Exegesis students read his article "Why the Laodiceans Received Lukewarm Water" in Tyndale Bulletin vol. 38 (1987).

Having said all that, his new commentary on Romans is fantastic (The Letter to the Romans: A Linguistic and Literary Commentary, New Testament Monographs; Sheffield, England: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2015), and here's why. 
1. First of all, it highlights what Porter is best at, namely Discourse Analysis. Consequently, Porter does not go "verse-by-verse" as most commentaries but rather "discourse unit-by-discourse unit." This is a little bit of a down-side for those who wish to use it like other commentaries, but the trade-off is worth it in this case. Porter is able to give you a better picture of the progression of Paul's argument than most traditional commentaries.

2. Secondly, to my surprise, Porter's commentary does a fantastic job grappling with the theology of a passage (following K. Barth's exhortation!), and more often than not he's very quotable. For example:
Page 96, on Rom 3:21-26--"The sense of propitiation--no matter how unsettling to the refined modern mind--is no doubt suggested here. Christ Jesus is seen as the sacrifice, whom God himself offered, asa means of eliminating his righteous wrath, which is to be justifiably meted out upon humanity for its clear rebellion against God's standard. . . . Rather than wondering, however, how it is that God can or would want to offer a sacrifice to himself, the picture Paul paints, when viewed from another angle, is a more profound one. He depicts a God of both love and righteousness. A God of righteousness must hold true to his own character as his righteousness is exemplified and enshrined in his laws, whether written or not. Yet at the same time, he also offers the solution to the violation of his standards by a sinful and rebellious humanity, since he is a God of love. God's love and righteousness are the two faces of the same coin" (emphasis added).

Another example: Porter's discussion of Romans 5 and the theological implications of "reconciliation" (the focus of ch. 5) is excellent. Porter points out how that up to this point, Paul has only dealt with the legal side of the solution, yet the problem confronting humanity extends to the relational/personal side as well. Thus, "More than simply breaking God's legal code got humanity into trouble; it was a personal matter too (see Michel 1957:136). That personal dimension is what makes sinful humanity into God's enemies" (122). The solution, contra what one would expect, is that "it is God who initiates reconciliation with humanity" rather than vice versa (121).

This is a side of Porter I haven't seen much of before, and I feel he does an excellent job. If Porter's next project were a "Theology of the New Testament, I'd pre-order it (I was less pleased with his handling of the "I" passages in Romans 7, since I'm thoroughly convinced by Chang's article [see below], but oh well).

3. Thirdly, Porter's commentary is, for the most part, very up-to-date and well read. He has a few key omissions (Chang's article), but nevertheless may be the best re-searched commentary since Douglas Moo and Joseph Fitmyer.

Despite all those positives, it didn't replace Moo as my textbook for seminary exegesis on Romans (which I'm teaching this semester), since Douglas Moo's NICNT does a much better job presenting various viewpoints side-by-side, and ultimately a traditional "verse-by-verse" commentary is probably more helpful for a pastoral library. Also (no disrespect intended), Porter is still Porter (i.e., tough to read), as this one quote demonstrates: "Paul utilizes the interpersonal semantics of his language to express the tenor of his discourse, in which he engages in hypothetical dialogue with his hearers or readers" (p. 62).  

Nonetheless, his book would make excellent supplementary reading for any seminary class. Furthermore, if I were to teach a doctoral module on Romans (unlikely, since I've contributed nothing to scholarship on Romans), the students would be required to read three commentaries in their entirety: Moo (NICNT), Joseph Fitzmyer (AB), and Porter.

For the interested reader, here's some recent articles on Romans that I've found immensely interesting:
1. Hae-Kyung Chang, "The Christian Life in a Dialectical Tension? Romans 7:7-25 Reconsidered," Novum Testamentum 49 (2007).
Some readers may be aware that I had a mini-debate with philosopher and theologian Steven Cowan in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. In his rejoinder to my original article, Cowan argued that Romans 7 indicates a believe does not possess libertarian free will (click here for my original article; here for Cowan's response; here for my rejoinder). I had no strong opinions on the "I/ego" in Romans 7 at that time, and was forced to study the matter out. It was Chang's article that convinced me of the following: 
"In Rom. 6 and 8, respectively, Paul makes it clear that “being free under sin” and 'being free from the law of sin and death' are conditions that are true for every Christian. If one is a Christian, then these things are true; if one is not, they are not true. This means that the situation of 'I' depicted in Rom. 7:14–25 cannot be that of the 'normal' Christians, nor of an immature Christian. Nor can it describe the condition of any Christian living by the law because the Christian who is mistakenly living according to the law is yet a Christian and is therefore not 'under sin' or a 'prisoner of the law of sin'" (Chang, p. 268).

2. Jackson Wu, "Paul Writes to the Greek First and also to the Jew: The Missiological Significance of Understanding Paul's Purpose in Romans," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 56.4 (2013). Though much ink has been spilt on the purpose behind Romans, Wu's article is an excellent new perspective on the significance of Paul's use of the term "Barbarian," etc., in light of his proposed mission to Spain. This is a highly theological article and quite the enjoyable (and spiritually challenging) read, especially the last few pages. Consider this excellent quote as a sample:
"The danger of individualism cannot be understated here. The gospel does not merely concern individuals; it saves all nations (cf. Gal 3:8). When we think about the church’s ministry, whom do we prioritize and why? How do we partition our world, city, and church? These are gospel questions" (Wu, p. 777).

3. Finally, because lately I've become obsessed with Wisdom literature (including Wisdom of Solomon), the following article has fascinated me: Jonathan A. Linebaugh, "Announcing the Human: Rethinking the Relationship Between Wisdom of Solomon 13-15 and Romans 1.18-2.11," New Testament Studies 57 (2011). Linebaugh's basic thesis is that Paul, in Rom 1:18-2:11 specifically reacts against a Jew arguing from Wisdom of Solomon and pushes back against the basic thrust of Wisdom 13-15 (the contrast between non-idolatrous Jew and idolatrous Gentile).

Well, I trust that is some food-for-thought for any of my readers interested in deeper studies of Romans (this post having barely scratched the surface, of course!). In closing, it's worth noting that, finally, the New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC) on Romans has just come out, authored by Richard N. Longenecker, though I have not been able to check it out yet.

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