Romans Suggestions?

I will be teaching Romans again this fall and am always looking for good reads for the course. If anyone has ideas on (a) good basic to mid-level commentaries; (b) more advanced but readable commentaries for students; and (c) other interesting treatments of Romans, I’d like to hear from you.

In the recent past, for (a) I’ve used, among others, Luke Johnson, Kathy Grieb, and Ben Witherington; I’m thinking also of Lee Keck. For (b) I’ve often used Brendan Byrne. For (c) I’ve used Klaus Haacker’s theology, but I’m thinking of Daniel Kirk’s Unlocking Romans or perhaps Neil Elliott’s new book.

I know Chris Tilling (and probably others) have raised this question before, but that’s OK.

20 Responses to “Romans Suggestions?”

  1. Patrick Coleman says:

    Under c) have you looked at Christopher Bryan’s Preface to Romans?

  2. simon jones says:

    I’ve found Philip Esler’s Conflict and identity in Romans very stimulating and a number of his articles are worth reading too. Reta Haltemann Finger’s Paul and the Roman House Churches is also a good, albeit popular-level work.

  3. Michael Bird says:


    I’d put four things on a reading list:

    1. Intro to Romans: Can’t go past Bryan on “Preface to Romans”

    2. History of Interpretation: Mark Reasoner’s “Romans in Full Circle” is a must read and great for tutorial discussion.

    3. On commentaries: Moo, Fitzmyer, Wright, or Schreiner.

    4. Purpose of Romans: Gotta make them read some of “The Romans Debate”.

  4. MJG says:

    Thanks for these early responses. Let me clarify a bit. Following the norm here, I’m looking now primarily for a few books all students will purchase. Other books will of course be available at the library, and I may (as I often do) have everyone read a common commentary and have each student follow along in various other commentaries. Then all volumes are available for research papers, etc.

    Patrick and Michael—

    Bryan’s book, at least in this country, costs more than $100. Too bad.


    Yes, Esler is helpful, and that’s an option. Reta’s book was on my short list of possibilities but did not excite me on a re-skim. I’ll look again.


    Thanks. I’ve used Reasoner before and quite agree. The commentaries you mentioned are all valuable, but (a) Moo and Schreiner have a particular theological angle that do not make them prime candidates for a required read; (b) Wright is wonderful but buried in a rather expensive book (though it’s worth the price and probably not more than sum stand-alone commentaries) ; (c) Fitzmyer is too “Lutheran” for me despite its wealth of historical, theological, and reception-history information and insights—similar issue to (a)—though I did use it once or twice as a required read when it first came out.

    All of these will be on the course bibliography in some form. I wish Bryan were affordable!

  5. bryan says:

    First I think Elliott’s book is wonderful and will expose students to the political dimensions and cultural contexts of Paul’s letter.

    Next I think Nanos’ work is worth a mention.

    For Commentaries have you tried Charles Talbert’s ($45 from publisher? ), it does a good job laying out Romans.

    What about the Writings of St. Paul the Norton Critical Edition, (does anyone use this?)

    Here are the articles about Romans:

    New Part VIII. Reading Romans
    Romans 7: Paul and Religious Experience
    Theodoret of Cyrus • Painting the Passions’ Domination Prior to Grace (ca. 445)
    Krister Stendahl • Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West (1963)
    Paul W. Meyer •The Worm at the Core of the Apple (1990)
    Stanley K. Stowers • Romans 7:7-25 as Speech-in-Character (1994)
    Romans 13: Paul’s Influence on Political Theory
    Origen • Christians and the Governing Authorities (ca. 246)
    Karl Hermann Schelkle • State and Church in the Patristic Exposition of Romans 13:1-7 (1952)
    Wilfrid Parson, S.J. • Romans 13 and Augustine’s Political Thought (1941)
    Martin Luther • Submission and Resistance (1523)
    Jonathan Mayhew • Romans 13 and the Right of Revolution (1749)
    Ernst Kasemann • Principles of Interpretation of Romans 13 (1961)


  6. Leland Vickers says:

    I heard this week that a friend is taking a one-week short course this summer at Yale Div School: “Romans”, taught by H. Attridge. I have not seen the syllabus, but might be interesting to see what text(s) he is recommending/using.

  7. I’m having my students use Elliott for a book review assignment. I think that the book can work as a counter-point if you have a clear “New Perspective” type reading in play. It’s a good exposure to a post-colonial, anti-[American-]Empire reading. So I’d assign it for “diversity of viewpoint”, but in my view the “ethne” as non-Roman peoples runs aground at countless points in the exegesis of Romans. There were some important things that the book did for my students, but I’m not sure that making them better readers of Paul’s letter was one of them.

    In terms of commentaries, I find that I increasingly appreciate Dunn, though it is terribly long! I am employing a friend’s idea of having each student read a different commentary. The student is then responsible for representing that commentary’s voice during class discussion. That’s helping bring some diversity of exegetical opinion to the table and stimulating some good discussion.

  8. MJG says:


    Thanks for the advice on Elliott; I was thinking of the same kind of assignment and have similar reactions to the book from what I’ve read. I also (see my first comment) frequently ask each student to read various commentaries with one mid-range common commentary.

    Dunn is indeed too long for an assigned text, esp. for those who do not have Greek. (This term’s course is based on the English text.)

    PS Surprised you said nothing about my flirting with Unlocking!


    Thanks; I’ll contact Attridge.


    Thanks for the good ideas. Meeks might be more interesting than Reasoner on reception history since students would read actual texts, though mostly modern and mainly on Rom 13.

    I really like Talbert’s work generally, and I love the Smith-Helwys series, so I’ll take a look again. The last time I considered it I thought that some aspects of his theological take might not quite work as the main text with my very diverse student body. But it’s worth another look, especially after my great affection for the Reddish volume on Revelation in the same series that developed this term.

  9. Doug Jones says:

    I’m just a recent, regular reader here, but I thought I’d jump in and recommend Stanley Stowers’ *Rereading Romans.* It goes beyond standard New Perspective moves and offers very strong insights not found in others. Stowers exegetical work is a good exercise for students to grapple with.

  10. Well, Mike, about once a month I stop and think that the internet in general and blogs in particular might be valuable for something other than my shameless self-promotion! Or, shameless book promotion as the case may be!

  11. Not sure what happened to my comment. But I was indicating that every now and then I pretend that the internet is good for something other than my shameless self-promotion!

  12. MJG says:


    Thanks for the reminder about Stowers. I’m not totally convinced by his overall argument, and the book is tough-going at times for students, but it goes on the list.

  13. Tony Stiff says:

    MJG if you don’t go with Kirk’s “Unlocking Romans” his ETS article “The Work of Christ and the People of God: Romans 10 in Post-New Perspective Perspective” is a good one to include as well. I was very helped by it.

    Particularly when he said, “Israel’s failure is one of hermeneutics. Israel reads the law nomo-referentially, but Paul reads the law christo-referentially. That is to say, the problem Paul articulates is that Israel does not read the law as referring to Christ, but instead reads the law as referring to itself.”

    Just a thought…

  14. MJG says:


    Thanks for the article reference.

  15. Carl says:

    Two works that immediately come to mind for the “c” category are:

    Stephen Westerholm–Preface to the Study of Paul (1997)
    Jeffrey P. Greenman & Timothy Larsen, eds.–Reading Romans through the Centuries: From the Early Church to Karl Barth (2005)

    Both of these are great reads for their own reasons, and both are quite easy on the wallet.

  16. MJG says:


    Thanks. Westerholm is a great read even though I’m not with him 100%. I need to take another look at Greenman and Larsen; probably better to use than either Reasoner or Meeks (for different reasons).

  17. Mike,

    I asked a similar question when I was preparing to teach Romans to my church last year. One gem I discovered was Lee Keck’s commentary in the Abingdon series. I thought for the size and price there is no better commentary on Romans.

    I also used Luke Timothy Johnson’s Reading Romans for a distinct theological reading.

    I hope this helps.

  18. MJG says:


    Thanks; you’re right; they’re both excellent commentaries and glad they were hepful to your class.

    Traffic jam on the comments. Sorry; an occasional bug in WordPress.

  19. Well, it may be too angled in one confessional direction, but John E. Toews commentary on Romans in the Believers Church Bible Commentary is excellent for that basic to mid-level commentary.

    I will second Reta Finger’s book.

    You can see my own personal confessional bias showing here :)

  20. MJG says:


    For the record, I largely share your apparent theological bias. I’m happy to use confessional commentaries, but I won’t use a blatantly confessional commentary as the ONLY commentary in an ecumenically diverse setting like mine. I liked Toews’s commentary but thought it largely relied on others’ work with an Anabaptist spin—but I’ll look again and will consider it. And I’ve already said I’ll look at Reta’s book. Thanks.

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