There is at once among Protestants a supreme knowledge of Romans and yet a depth of ignorance. We read it as if we know what Paul is saying, and sometimes we do, but in the end we are going? to miss a lot of the meaning behind Paul’s letter. Why? Because we are reading Paul, looking for words rather than looking for structure. We assign meaning to the words, but Paul has carefully chosen his wording based on a structure.
But, there is a move to fix that. Stanley Stowers proposed a different reading of Romans, based on rhetorical apostrophes. Douglas Campbell recently proposed reading Romans, using rhetoric, but as if the whole piece is deeply entrenched in rhetoric. And I cannot help but mention the New Perspective(s) on Paul. With all of these “new” readings of Romans, one would think we could know just about every angle there is, to read Romans in every way possible. There is still room, however, in exploring Romans. I believe Steve Runge’s new commentary will help to moderate some modern stances while enlivening more traditional ones.
The High Definition Romans Commentary works with the methodology Runge laid down in his Discourse series and exampled in the High Definition New Testament. More than that, it attempts to connect the academy to the Church, from the literary to the literological. Runge accomplishes his task, not just “well enough,” but in a grand fashion wherein this reviewer at times wanted to show some measure of physical excitement at what he was reading.
The commentary is written with you in mind. Rather than modify that statement, to surround “you” with either the academic or the lay, or other, qualifiers, just know: this commentary is written to you. In that regards, there are no footnotes to vast amounts of data you most likely either know or wouldn’t read anyway. Rather, you are able to read the commentary based on what the structure provides, albeit with Runge’s voice in the foreground.
As the author states, the commentary is not about what is said, but how it is said. Thus, he guides us through Paul’s structuring of Romans as the definitive way of reading Romans. We do not have to wait long for Runge to dive deep into this. He opens up with Paul’s purpose, easily identified in the first few lines of Romans — he wants to introduce himself to the Roman church. He wants to build a relationship. Thus, he must carefully detail his theology. He stresses how each point serves a purpose in Paul’s rhetoric. Indeed, not much in Romans, if anything, is written on a whim. Every word, given the appropriate structure, is given purpose.
I have written before on Romans 1.18-32. I simply feel that of all the passages in Paul’s writings, deutero– or otherwise, this passage is the most misused. In fact, I will judge a commentary on Romans by how this singular passage is presented. Perhaps this is why I am drawn so heavily into Douglas Campbell’s viewpoint. So that is why I am going to use my review and interaction with this passage as a way to show you why I accept this commentary as valid and the methodology of Runge as important.
Keep in mind, I’ve only seen the pre-publication copy. I cannot, thus, cite page numbers and will not directly cite Runge’s words. They may change during the final publication review.
Runge challenges me, but he doesn’t do it by stating, “the bible says.” Rather, Runge is showing how something is said and doing very little to add to Scripture. Indeed, even though we arrive at different conclusions, he raises points I had never seen before because, even though I pride myself on attempting to read this passage as deeply rhetorical, I still read it with a wooden structure.
For instance, what is the wrath of God revealed against? Here, Runge isn’t carefully crafting anything. There is nothing else but to show by refracting our vision to see Paul’s structure what is actually happening in this passage. Again, I don’t want to reveal too much, but I believe this is the first time I’ve seen this revealed in any critical Romans commentary. Why? Because Runge is revealing Paul’s structure and in doing so, he is revealing the central elements to Paul’s statements such as connecting words, pointing words, and framing language.
We do much the same thing when we diagram sentences in English. We strip away the pointers and other qualifiers to get to the heart of the sentence. Runge does the same thing. But in stripping away some of the elements Paul uses, he also strips away our patina, the glaze of our own theological stances, to reveal to us something we may be missing.
In the end, what Runge does in Romans 1.18-32 is to reveal Paul’s structure and then to help, ever so slightly, to define what is going on here. Yes, he and I arrive at different conclusions on this, but he has caused me to reconsider my already known and set-in-stone facts about this passage.
Another section that I think epitomizes Runge’s work on Romans is his reflection on Romans 3 after he has completed Romans 9. Other commentators often accuse Paul of having drifting thoughts. Yet, Runge shows this is not the case. In fact, I contend, the more so after reading this commentary, that Paul wants his readers to re-read Romans while they are reading it. What do I mean?
When Runge arrives to Romans 9, he is able to then refer back to Romans 3 based on the structure of Romans 9. We must assume, then, the audience after hearing Romans 9 (or rather, what is Romans 9) would immediately start to recall what had been said just a few minutes before (in Romans 3). This would then trigger their thought process to reprocess what they had heard up until that point because suddenly everything is making sense. Paul is not simply laying down a linear path, but writing as the sea billows wave — paths on top of each other.
Why would you need this book? In my opinion, every serious scholar and exegete (preaching or otherwise) needs this book. First, if you have the High Definition New Testament, you will finally get to see what Runge is doing. This is the High-Def NT in action. Second, this helps to understand Paul’s main point of Romans. I believe Stowers is correct, that this epistle is a protreptic forerunner; however, he did not have the structure laid so bare as to reveal why he felt this way. All he had was the common rhetorical clues and a good argument. Runge, while not intentionally following Stowers’ suggestion, helps to prove Paul’s thesis is one of introduction, of theology laid bare. While Stowers argues, Runge demonstrates.
A final word about Runge’s methodology. Often times, when discussing rhetoric or other structuring elements in a text, we are tempted to jump into Schweizer’s well. We see in that text more of ourselves and how we would structure something rather than allowing the ancient author his own pen. As much as I have tried, I do not see this in Runge’s work. Rather, I see a consistent methodology that only springs into a commentary. Of course Runge is operating within predetermined framework, but I do not believe this has led him to be biased against Paul’s natural structure. Rather, any reader of this commentary and Romans should be able to see how natural this commentary is based on Paul’s structure as suggested by Runge — and how natural Runge’s scaffolding is natural to the inherent Pauline text. You are not going to be told how to see it; Runge is simply pointing out important clues so that you will see what is already there.
There are other benefits to this book. In the Logos Bible Software platform, the publication will be accompanied with a plethora of teaching slides that are excellent for the classroom and the sanctuary. Further, it helps to truly bring the uniqueness of the High-def New Testament to light. It provides a clear process to follow in reading Romans. In other words, it doesn’t use a lot of confusing language to show you simply what is happening in the text. It doesn’t argue anything; rather, Runge states what he sees and tells you just a little about how this applies. As an added plus, Runge’s language helps the reader to understand the structure by carefully selected words such as “hinge,” “framing,” and “drawing out.”