Subscribe via RSS Feed

Michael Gorman: Romans

Michael J. Gorman, Romans: A Theological & Pastoral Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2022), 325 pages, ISBN 9780802877628.

Do you remember the last time you consulted a commentary? There is a high probability that you did not read it all the way through from cover to cover. Commentaries usually sit for quite some time on a bookshelf waiting to be used as reference material for a pastor’s next sermon, a student’s next research paper, or a professor’s next class lecture. Having referred to many types of commentaries over the years as both a student and pastor, I found Michael J. Gorman’s Romans to be a refreshing surprise thanks, in part, to its elevated level of readability. This expository commentary is for pastors, students, and laypeople who want to consider the contemporary, spiritual and pastoral implications of Paul’s letter; however, there is no reason academics should bypass this volume. Anyone interested in understanding Romans better should benefit from the erudite scholarship of this renowned New Testament scholar. In part, his goal for this commentary is to “help those who struggle with the letter to read it more intelligibly, and charitably and to embrace its call to participate in the life God offers in Christ by the Spirit more fully” (xviii). It is this volume’s emphases on the newness of life in Christ, participation and transformation, and “the life and mission of God in the world” which allows this commentary to stand out in a crowded market.

“Above all, Romans is a letter about Spirit-enabled participation and transformation in Christ and his story, and thus in the mission of God in the world.”

At the beginning of most commentaries on Romans, it is commonplace to find prefacing information to the commentary proper. Gorman includes all the typical topics― ‘authorship,’ ‘date,’ ‘place,’ ‘destination’ or ‘recipients,’ ‘themes,’ and ‘occasion’―within the first two chapters of his commentary. However, Gorman doesn’t stop there, he goes on to examine Paul’s life, ministry, theology, and spirituality, as well as several of the varied contemporary perspectives on Paul. Chapter two engages Romans as story: the reader will benefit from “the story behind the letter,” “the shape of the letter,” “the story within the letter,” and “the story in front of the letter.”

For anyone who is more familiar with verse-by-verse commentary, this one will require a slight adjustment period to become accustomed to Gorman’s panoramic exposition of the text. This refreshing view of Paul’s letter is helpful for discerning the overarching themes presented in both the individual chapters and the entirety of the letter. The Pauline themes which Gorman emphasizes are numerous and familiar; however, there are several themes which receive special attention that resonate with his longstanding scholarly interests—righteousness and justice, life and cruciformity, participation and transformation. For example, the reader will find several gray-box excursuses throughout the commentary section. One of these, The Vocabulary of Righteousness, Justice, and Justification, contains an explanation as to why the translational usage of two English word families, “right-” and “just-,” for one Greek word-family, dik,- is problematic vis-à-vis gaining an accurate understanding of Paul’s inspired motive for using the dik-family of words to articulate the righteousness or justice of God (70).

What is the Spirit-filled, resurrection-infused life?

For Gorman, the focus of Romans is newness of life, and the subject of the letter is the gospel of salvation. Gorman asserts that if John is commonly recognized as ‘the gospel of life,’ then “Romans is the epistle of life” (xix, 23, 37, 50, 172). In Romans 1-4, “resurrection from death to life” summarizes every aspect of justification (140). “New life with Christ” and the “Spirit-filled, resurrection-infused life” are the earmarks of Gorman’s exposition of Romans 5-8 (216). His reading of Romans 9-11 stresses salvation for all who “believe God raised Jesus from the dead and who confess his lordship,” including the remainder of a believing Israel (241). Romans 12-16 completes Gorman’s interpretive view of Paul’s theology of life and salvation in Jesus Christ through the Sprit: He points the reader to Paul’s emphasis on believers as living sacrifices, and the goal of the divine plan of salvation for both Jew and gentile (300).

Paul may be referred to as a pastoral theologian, so this commentary may be considered “theological-pastoral” (xvii). It focuses on ‘discourse units,’ and mostly “comments on the text, not on other commentators” (xviii). The volume has seven major commentary sections (1:1-17; 1:18-4:25; 5:1-8:39; 9:1-11:36; 12:1-15:13; 15:14-33; 16:1-27) with each divided into subsections that are arranged beneath boldface subtitles (burgeoning editors might notice a few discrepancies within the Contents—missing are several boldface subtitles for sections 1:1-17 and 9:1-11:36, two subtitles as included on pages 77 and 180, and major section summaries; also, the usage of boldface and italics in the Contents does not match the corresponding text in the Body).  Four major section summaries are included within the volume’s pages (Rom. 1-4, 141; Rom. 5-8,  216-17; Rom. 9-11, 241; and Rom. 12-16, 300); subsection summaries are only occasionally provided for the reader. Reflections and Questions and For Further Reading are practical resources for the reader, helpfully placed after chapters one and two; thereafter, they follow each discourse unit.

This commentary does contain several intriguing approaches to texts that have proven to be difficult or divisive for decades, if not centuries. For example, Gorman does not shy away from controversial politics as seen in Reflections and Questions, as well as in the gray-box excursus, “Romans 13 and Nonconformity Today” (cf. 107, 213, 257-9, 263). His discussion on predestination “as a testimony to God’s mercy and faithfulness” may be a cause of concern for some who understand it differently (46, 221-23). Also, the author’s humble and respectful perspective on Romans 1:24-27 (same-gender sexual relations) will most certainly compel readers to either reevaluate or solidify their position on the subject. In all of these cases, some may believe Gorman to be relatively myopic; however, as he tells his hermeneutics students, “let whoever is without sin cast the first stone,” and reminds the reader, with sincere humility, that “our best interpretive efforts are never infallible.” (xviii, 91).

This will be a commentary you will want to read closely from beginning to end.

Romans is full of additional features from which I will continue to benefit. The varied resources located throughout the book are extremely helpful for devotional study or in-depth research (e.g., tables, bulleted lists, and numerous summaries). Pages are not cluttered with an abundance of footnotes, yet when Gorman provides them, the notes are pertinent to the text being treated. While the author has not produced a technical, Koine Greek-infused commentary, he does provide just enough transliteration to clarify otherwise confusing English word usages. Something that many readers will find enlightening is Gorman’s inclusion of N. T. Wright’s The Kingdom New Testament translation of several texts which favours the theme of ‘justice’ rather than ‘righteousness’ (43-45). Also, the author’s confident analysis of the ‘I’ of Romans 7 is of the utmost value to pastors who struggle to help their congregants make sense of their individual experiences of sin. Finally, Gorman is right to lead the charge against anti-Semitism, inside and outside the Church, through his discussion on “Romans and Interfaith Relations: The Two-Ways Interpretation” (47-49).

This review began with the supposition that most people have never read a commentary from cover to cover. Well, this will be a commentary you will want to read closely from beginning to end. Gorman states at the opening of his exposition that pastors, students, and laypeople may benefit from his work. However, it is not an exaggeration to make the assertion that everyone can benefit from this commentary.

Reviewed by Joseph R. Fiorentino


This book review previously appeared in Didaskalia: The Journal of Providence Theological Seminary, Volume 31, pp. 140-44 (2023-2024), ISSN 0847-1266. Used with permission.


Publisher’s page:

Pin It

Tags: , , ,

Category: Biblical Studies, Spring 2024

About the Author: Joseph Fiorentino is the pastor of Quadeville Pentecostal Church in Ontario, Canada. He earned a Master of Arts in Ministerial Leadership (2017) from Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida and a Master of Theological Studies (2023) from Tyndale University in Toronto, Ontario. His research interests center on kenotic participation in God through the indwelling Christ and rural church ministry. Joe and his wife Lori have a son, Joseph Jr.

  • Connect with

    Subscribe via Twitter Followers   Subscribe via Facebook Fans
  • Recent Comments

  • Featured Authors

    Amos Yong is Professor of Theology & Mission and director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena. His graduate education includes degree...

    Jelle Creemers: Theological Dialogue with Classical Pentecostals

    Antipas L. Harris, D.Min. (Boston University), S.T.M. (Yale University Divinity School), M.Div. (Emory University), is the president-dean of Jakes Divinity School and associate pasto...

    Invitation: Stories about transformation

    Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books<...

    Studies in Acts

    Daniel A. Brown, PhD, planted The Coastlands, a church near Santa Cruz, California, serving as Senior Pastor for 22 years. Daniel has authored four books and numerous articles, but h...

    Will I Still Be Me After Death?