Frank Matera’s Romans Commentary (PAIDEIA)

The very helpful commentary website “bestcommentaries.com” lists 75 commentaries on Romans written in the last 100 years (and I am sure that list is not exhaustive). It also lists almost another twenty that are contracted for the future (Porter, Gaventa, Longenecker, etc…). Do we really need more and more and more on Romans?

Certainly this huge interest in Romans is a testament to the importance of the book. And, we Paul scholars can’t help ourselves – when a new commentary comes out -we grumble…and then buy it.

Well, I am happy to concede that Frank Matera’s new PAIDEIA Romans commentary (Baker, 2010) is a good read and will be very useful for classroom use. Here is a note about the series

This series is aimed squarely at students…who have theological interests in the biblical text

Sometimes scholars have trouble remembering how difficult it is for uninitiated students to break into the study of Paul and make sense of debates and key discussions. Matera steps in and offers a very lucid treatment of the text in a way that makes Romans-scholarship accessible.

Certain elements of the series itself facilitate this: a critically-important aspect of the volume is the focus on the “flow of the text” -where is the argument going? What is the big picture? Too often, students (and scholars!) lose the forest, not just for the trees, but for a deep desire to obsess over the tiniest piece of bark on one tree! Matera follows the route of argumentation well (enough) and leaves a wide path for students to follow. The section-by-section analysis is pretty standard, general, and he does not promote “new” or controversial ideas. He sticks to standard viewpoints (which is not a bad thing).

Another important aspect of this series is that each section discussion ends with a discussion of “Theological Issues” and Matera carefully selects appropriate topics of reflection. I will find myself returning to these as well.

Now, having 380 pages to write a commentary might sound generous, but Matera has an almost impossible task given the complex history of debate in Romans scholarship and also the sheer depth and importance of the letter. However, he makes the most of it. There are even pictures and charts sprinkled throughout which offer clarity and richness.

Here are some points of conversation in Matera’s commentary that may be of interest

- 9:5 – certainly at least on some occasions Paul knew Christos as a title (i.e., more than just a fixed name)

- Beyond just in Romans 5, Adam Christology is in the subtext of the whole letter

- The dikaiosyne of God is his “saving righteousness”

- One should take “obedience of faith” as an appositional genitive

- In 1:18-32, theories that the “golden calf” incident is alluded to are tenuous (I disagree with Matera here)

- identity of interlocuter in chapter 2 is generally not in need of scholarly reconstruction (see p. 60)

- Bassler is right that Paul’s focus esp in chs 1-3 is on the impartiality of God

- Rhetorically Matera likes Thomas Tobin’s work, theologically Matera likes Wright.

- Overall emphasis on “sin” as evil “power”

- prefers subjective genitive reading of pistis christou

- the hilasterion is probably the mercy seat

- Romans 7 – the “I” is not a Christian

-Romans 9-11: “if the apostle cannot explain the continuity between God’s saving righteousness manifested to Israel in the past and God’s saving righteousness manifested in Jesus Christ, there is no continuity between what God has done and what God is presently doing. If this is so, Paul’s gospel calls into question the faithfulness and reliability of God. In a word, there is a festering wound between synagogue and church” (p. 212)

-The importance of the Jerusalem collection – “it could never be…a minor issue for Paul since it pointed to the purpose of God’s saving righteousness in Christ: the unity of all people – Gentiles as well as Jews — in the human being who has already entered into the fullness of God’s glory” (p. 348)

- Matera’s commentary ends with three words: “SOLI DEO GLORIA”
CONCLUSION

The scholar will probably not be wowed by new insights and controversial remarks in this commentary. It is a solid and fair reading of the text of Romans and should be helpful in instruction and student learning.

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