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Encountering the Book of Romans (Encountering Biblical Studies): A Theological Survey

Encountering the Book of Romans (Encountering Biblical Studies): A Theological Survey

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Encountering the Book of Romans (Encountering Biblical Studies): A Theological Survey

4.5/5 (2 ratings)
462 pages
6 hours
Jul 8, 2014


In this updated edition of his successful textbook, a leading evangelical New Testament scholar offers a guide to the book of Romans that is informed by current scholarship and written at an accessible level. The new edition has been updated throughout and features a new interior design. After addressing introductory matters and laying the groundwork for reading Romans, Douglas Moo leads readers through the weighty argument of this significant book, highlighting key themes, clarifying difficult passages, and exploring the continuing relevance of Romans. As with other volumes in the well-received Encountering Biblical Studies series, this book is designed for the undergraduate classroom and includes pedagogical aids such as photos and sidebars. A test bank for professors is available through Baker Academic's Textbook eSources.
Jul 8, 2014

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Top quotes

  • Paul is concerned to explain how God’s new work in Christ can integrate both Jews and gentiles into one new people.

  • We are secure in him and have a certain hope for the future. Yet Paul never wants that security to breed complacency. He does not want believers to sit back and rest, thinking that God has taken care of it all. Response on our part is still necessary.

  • That good news is first of all a message directed to each one of us: God in Christ has made it possible to overcome the terrible and deadly power of sin and to enter into an intimate and eternal relationship with God.

  • He is not claiming that Abraham’s faith was perfect or that he never had any doubts whatsoever. Rather, his point is that Abraham, despite some very human doubts, always came back in the end to faith in the promise of God.

  • The law, then, was a problem not only because it separated Jew and gentile—as advocates of the new perspective often suggest—but also because Jews were falsely putting too much weight on it as a basis for their salvation.

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Encountering the Book of Romans (Encountering Biblical Studies) - DOUGLAS J MOO

Encountering Biblical Studies

Walter A. Elwell, General Editor and New Testament Editor

Eugene H. Merrill, Old Testament Editor

Encountering the Old Testament: A Christian Survey, Third Edition

Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer

Readings from the Ancient Near East: Primary Sources for Old Testament Study

Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer, editors

Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey, Third Edition

Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbrough

Readings from the First-Century World: Primary Sources for New Testament Study

Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbrough, editors

Encountering the Book of Genesis: A Study of Its Content and Issues

Bill T. Arnold

Encountering the Book of Psalms: A Literary and Theological Introduction, Second Edition

C. Hassell Bullock

Encountering the Book of Isaiah: A Historical and Theological Survey

Bryan E. Beyer

Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, Second Edition

Andreas J. Köstenberger

Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey, Second Edition

Douglas J. Moo

Encountering the Book of Hebrews: An Exposition

Donald A. Hagner

© 2002, 2014 by Douglas J. Moo

Published by Baker Academic

a division of Baker Publishing Group

P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287

Ebook edition created 2014

Ebook corrections 06.05.2018

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

ISBN 978-1-4412-4592-2

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations labeled ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV Text Edition: 2007

Scripture quotations labeled NET are from the NET BIBLE®, copyright © 2003 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations labeled NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, photos, maps, and illustrations are copyright © Baker Photo Archive.

For the many students all over the world who have helped me understand what Romans is all about


Cover    i

Series Page    ii

Title Page    iii

Copyright Page    iv

Dedication    v

To the Student    ix

Author’s Preface    xi

Abbreviations    xiii

Part 1  Encountering an Ancient Letter: Romans 1:1–17    1

1. Getting Oriented: What Is Romans Really About?    3

2. Paul and the Romans     13

3. The Gospel of God: Romans 1:1–17    21

Part 2  Encountering the Human Dilemma: Romans 1:18–3:20    35

4. God’s Wrath against Sinners: Romans 1:18–32    37

5. Jews Are without Excuse: Romans 2:1–29    45

6. The Universal Power of Sin: Romans 3:1–20    55

Part 3  Encountering God’s Provision in Christ: Romans 3:21–4:25    62

7. God’s Righteousness in Christ: Romans 3:21–31    65

8. The Faith of Abraham: Romans 4:1–25    73

Part 4  Encountering Life and Hope in Christ: Romans 5:1–8:39    81

9. Rejoicing in Life and Hope: Romans 5:1–21    83

10. Freedom from the Power of Sin: Romans 6:1–23    93

11. Freedom from the Law: Romans 7:1–25    103

12. Life and Hope through the Spirit: Romans 8:1–39    115

Part 5  Encountering the Relationship between Israel and the Gospel: Romans 9:1–11:36    127

13. Israel and the Plan of God: Romans 9:1–29    129

14. Israel, the Gentiles, and the Righteousness of God: Romans 9:30–10:21    141

15. The Future of Israel: Romans 11:1–36    149

Part 6  Encountering the Transforming Power of the Gospel: Romans 12:1–15:13    159

16. The Christian Mind-Set: Romans 12:1–21    161

17. Citizens of the World and Citizens of Heaven: Romans 13:1–14    169

18. A Plea for Unity in the Church: Romans 14:1–15:13    177

Part 7  Encountering the Letter’s Conclusion: Romans 15:14–16:27    189

19. Additional Comments on the Concluding Material: Romans 15:14–16:27    191

Notes    199

Glossary    207

Select Annotated Bibliography    209

Scripture Index    213

Subject Index    219

Back Ad    222

Back Cover    223

To the Student

Encountering the book of Romans in a systematic way for the first time is an exciting experience. It can also be overwhelming, because there is so much to learn. You need to learn not only the content of the letter that constitutes this book but also important background information about the world in which the writer of the letter lived.

The purpose of this textbook is to make that encounter a little less daunting. To accomplish this a number of learning aids have been incorporated into the text. We suggest you familiarize yourself with this textbook by reading the following introductory material, which explains what learning aids have been provided.


Sidebars isolate contemporary issues of concern and show how the book of Romans speaks to these pressing ethical and theological issues.

Chapter Outlines

At the beginning of each chapter is a brief outline of the chapter’s contents.

Study suggestion: Before reading the chapter, take a few minutes to read the outline. Think of it as a road map, and remember that it is easier to reach your destination if you know where you are going.

Chapter Objectives

A brief list of objectives is placed at the outset of each chapter. These present the tasks you should be able to perform after reading the chapter.

Study suggestions: Read the objectives carefully before beginning to read the text. As you read the text, keep these objectives in mind and take notes to help you remember what you have read. After reading the chapter, return to the objectives and see if you can perform the tasks.

Key Terms and Glossary

Key terms have been identified throughout the text by the use of boldface type. This will alert you to important words or phrases with which you may not be familiar. A definition of these words will be found at the end of the book in an alphabetical glossary.

Study suggestion: When you encounter a key term in the text, stop and read the definition before continuing through the chapter.

Study Questions

A few discussion questions have been provided at the end of each chapter, and these can be used to review for examinations.

Study suggestion: Write suitable answers to the study questions in preparation for tests.

Further Reading

A helpful bibliography for supplementary reading is presented at the end of the book.

Study suggestion: Use this list to explore areas of special interest.

Visual Aids

A host of illustrations has been included in this textbook. Each illustration has been carefully selected, and each is intended to make the text not only more aesthetically pleasing but also more easily mastered.

May your encounter of the book of Romans be an exciting adventure!


to access study aids and instructor materials for this textbook.

Author’s Preface

Of making many books there is no end," warns the author of Ecclesiastes (12:12). And, also, it would seem, of making of many books on Romans by Moo there is no end. Some readers of this book will know that I have already written two commentaries on Romans: the New International Commentary volume (published by Eerdmans) and the NIV Application Commentary (published by Zondervan). Why another book on Romans from Moo? I hope and believe that it is not just a matter of inordinate pride. To the degree that any of us can truly know our hearts, I honestly believe that I am writing not just to get my name on another book. I wrote this book because I think that my views on Romans are worth hearing. Or, more accurately, I think that the many Christian scholars and preachers who have gone before me, and whose views I build upon and adapt, are worth hearing. The contemporary scholarly world swirls with new ideas about Paul and Romans. Some of these ideas certainly are good ones. And God knows we always need to take a fresh look at old theological views, testing them against the best interpretation of Scripture we can develop. But not all the new ideas are, in my view, good ones. Some of them are bad ones, and some of them are at least questionable. So I see this book as an opportunity to revise and restate some old ideas against the backdrop of some of these new ideas. The nature of the Encountering Biblical Studies series gives me the opportunity to communicate these ideas in a different way than I had been able to do in my earlier commentaries and to a different audience.

Far too many people have helped shape my thinking on Romans to mention here. But the many opportunities I have had to teach Romans—in academic contexts at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Wheaton Graduate School, in Sunday school classes, in extension classes, at pastors’ seminars, even in a Bible study for high school students—have been deeply influential in helping me think through the letter. This volume is dedicated to those many students whose questions, papers, and class comments have forged my own thinking on Romans.




Encountering an Ancient Letter

Romans 1:1–17


Getting Oriented

What Is Romans Really About?


Ancient Letters and Modern Readers

The Current Debate about Romans

Getting Situated: How, Then, Should We Read?

Take Up and Read!


After reading this chapter, you should be able to

Appreciate why we have to get our bearings before we plunge into an ancient letter like Romans.

Understand the most important alternatives for reading and understanding Romans today.

Decide how you are going to read Romans.

Christians have always believed that God speaks to his people in the pages of the Bible. And that belief is quite justified. The Bible is a collection of books that God inspired to inform, challenge, and edify us. But how do we understand what it is that God is trying to communicate to us through the pages of the Bible? For God himself did not directly write the words of Scripture. The Bible is no book dropped from heaven. Rather, it is a collection of many different books, written by human beings over the course of two millennia. And to understand the Bible rightly, we must learn something about this human dimension of Scripture. We especially need to remind ourselves of what we might call the contextualized nature of the Bible when we turn to Romans. Many Christians think of Romans as a kind of theological summary and tend to pay little attention to its actual origins. But Romans, though thoroughly theological, is no textbook on doctrine. It is a letter—written by a particular person to particular people in a particular time and place. We will be able to understand better what God wants to teach us in Romans if we keep these circumstances in mind. In chapters 2 and 3 we will explore some of the specifics, looking in turn at the author, the readers, and the theme of the letter. But we need to begin, in this chapter, by laying a broader foundation. Specifically, we want to ask, and suggest an answer to, this question: what is Romans really about?

Ancient Letters and Modern Readers

The question we have just posed might seem to be the product of overheated academic imaginations. Doesn’t the book tell us clearly enough what it is about? Why create needless controversy over what is so obvious? But wait. Is it obvious? That’s the question. The problem is that we bring our own agendas to the reading of a letter like Romans. We come to it—inevitably—from our own culture. We interpret its words and sentences as if they were written by a twenty-first-century Christian. But, of course, they were not. Romans was written by a first-century Jew, Saul of Tarsus. The words of Romans have to be understood in his context before we can translate them accurately into ours. The famous philosopher of language Ludwig Wittgenstein introduced the notion of language games to explain this problem with understanding words. Basically, he argued, we have to know what game we are playing if we are going to understand language accurately. Take a simple example: the phrase Hail Mary uttered in the context of the game of a Roman Catholic religious service means something quite different from the very same phrase spoken in the game of a football broadcast.

And so we might rephrase our central question: what game was Paul playing when he wrote his letter to the Romans? The Reformer Martin Luther gave voice to a classic answer to this question in the sixteenth century. Paul was writing about the way a sinful human being can get into right relationship with a perfect and just God. Why did Luther think that this is what Romans is about? Because it is the plain meaning of the text! Luther undoubtedly would have responded. And he may well be right. But we also must acknowledge that Luther’s reading was influenced by his circumstances. He was reading Romans from a very specific and personal vantage point. As a dedicated Roman Catholic monk, Luther used every available religious discipline to try to make himself presentable to God, but he simply could not convince himself that he was succeeding. As he looked deeply into his own heart, he saw so much selfishness and pride and rebellion there that he could not imagine what he could ever do to bridge the gap between himself and God. Then came the great realization. What Luther could never do, God had already done. God, by allowing his Son to be executed on a Roman cross, had provided a way for the sins of all human beings to be forgiven. And it was in Romans, especially, that Luther discovered this liberating message of grace. As a result of his previous training, Luther had taken the expression the righteousness of God (Rom. 1:17) to refer to God’s own righteousness—God’s impartial justice. But how, then, could the revelation of that righteousness be good news (see Rom. 1:16)? Surely it was bad news, not good news, to learn that God was just and impartial, that he would punish every sin and judge every sinner. But then Luther came to understand that the righteousness of God that Paul was talking about was not God’s justice but God’s gift. The good news that Paul preached was that God had brought into the world the possibility of a righteousness from God—the gift of acceptance and right standing offered to every sinner—and that the gift was given simply in response to faith. Works of religious devotion or good deeds were not needed to earn acceptance with God. All God asked was that people turn away from their sins and turn to him in heartfelt faith.

Reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546) (Wikimedia Commons)

What a sense of liberation and joy Luther felt when he first came to understand the righteousness of God in these terms! Indeed, so overwhelming was the experience that Luther read the entire Bible in light of this truth for the rest of his life. Justification by faith was the heart of the gospel, the heart of Romans, the heart of the Bible. It was precisely for this reason that Luther had his famous problem with the Epistle of James, for he did not think that this letter adequately teaches the truth of justification by faith. The Protestant Reformers who followed Luther did not make justification by faith quite as central as Luther did, but they all followed him in reading Romans as a book about the individual human being and how that individual could be turned from a rebellious sinner into an obedient saint. Attention was focused above all on the early chapters of Romans 1–4, where the great issues of sin and God’s remedy in Christ are spelled out. Eventually, as the heat of the Reformation battles died down, many Roman Catholic scholars came to interpret Romans in a very similar way. By the middle of the twentieth century, therefore, one could almost speak of a consensus about the basic message of Romans. We can summarize this consensus in two basic points:

Romans focuses on the individual human being.

Romans emphasizes justification by faith because Jews were teaching justification by works.

Preachers, Sunday school teachers, and evangelists have taught most of us to read Romans from this perspective. We might call this the language game of individual salvation.

The Current Debate about Romans

Scholars view a consensus as a challenge. It is the very nature of the academic approach to question what most assume to be true—to take a hard, critical look at the ruling paradigms. And that is no bad thing. We can too easily get locked into certain ways of looking at the Bible and never stop to ask whether our approach is the right one or not. If the Bible is truly to be our authority for all of life, then we must constantly be reassessing our reading of its message. Very often, in fact, our failure to appreciate the real message of Scripture lies in certain assumptions about how we read the text—assumptions that we might not even be aware that we hold.

And so it is that in the last fifty years scholars have been asking some serious questions about the ruling consensus among interpreters of Romans. Two questions in particular are at the forefront and set the agenda for the current debate about the nature of Romans. These questions match the two key points in the individual salvation reading of Romans mentioned above.

Thus, the first question is whether Romans indeed focuses on the individual. Scholars such as Krister Stendahl argue that our individualistic reading of Romans (and of Paul generally) arose in the modern era, especially under the influence of Luther. Luther’s problem was how he, as an individual human being, could find rest for his troubled conscience. But that was not the issue with which Paul was grappling. Indeed, Stendahl suggests, concern about what he called the introspective conscience arose in the modern Western world. People in ancient times simply didn’t think that way. We have made the mistake of reading into Romans our own concerns.

What, then, was Paul’s real concern in Romans? The people question: what does God’s gracious work in Christ mean for the two great people groups of Paul’s world, Jews and gentiles? Romans is not basically about how an individual human being can get right with God; it is about how gentiles can be added into God’s people without disenfranchising God’s original people, the Jews.¹ This was the great question that confronted the Jewish apostle Paul in the first century as he sought to explain and defend the gospel. Generations of Jews, reading the Old Testament promises of God about the Messiah and the salvation he would bring, naturally thought that those promises would bring great blessing for the Jewish people. But by the time Paul wrote Romans, something strange and unexpected had happened. Comparatively few Jews had responded to the gospel, while gentiles had turned to Christ in significant numbers. The church was taking on an overwhelmingly gentile profile. But if the preaching of the gospel was bringing salvation to the gentiles while leaving most Jews hardened in their sins, how could the gospel truly be the gospel of God (Rom. 1:1)? Did not the same God who sent his Son to the cross and raised him from the dead to usher in the age of fulfillment promise that he would bless Israel? We find Paul tackling this thorny question in chapters 9–11 of Romans. And for Stendahl and many others, these chapters, not Romans 1–4, are the heart of Romans. The people question is what Romans is really about. Romans is not so much about the history of the individual as about the history of salvation.

A second question has attacked the second plank in the Reformation platform. Luther’s conviction that God offers the grace of salvation unconditionally to anyone who believes was forged in the fires of controversy. As a monk, he struggled to understand how his acts of religious devotion, however many, could ever enable him to appear before a perfect and holy God. And as a reformer, he fought for his vision of the gospel with a Roman Catholic church that insisted on works as a necessary condition for true righteousness before God. We should not be surprised, then, that Luther tended to read Romans as an ancient parallel to his own experience. Paul was cast in the role of the reforming Luther, and the Jews took the place of a legalistic Roman Catholicism. For Luther, then, and for those who have followed in his interpretive footsteps, Paul emphasizes justification by faith in order to counter the Jewish view of justification by works. Jews, in the traditional consensus, tended to base a right standing with God on the quantity of good works that a person was able to accomplish. Paul, in contrast, proclaims that a person can gain right standing with God only by an act of humble faith. Again, I suspect that many of us would readily identify this understanding of matters as the one we have been taught. Indeed, many of us have probably considered this way of looking at Paul and the Jews as obvious and unquestioned.

But suppose the Jewish people in Paul’s day were not teaching justification by works? This is precisely the question that a significant number of scholars began asking in the last quarter of the twentieth century. The seminal figure is E. P. Sanders, who wrote a book in 1977 that systematically argued for a very different view of the ancient Jewish faith than had been customary among both scholars and lay people.² Essentially, Sanders claims that Jews in Paul’s day did not believe that they would be saved by obeying the law or by good works. They believed that God had established a covenant with the Jewish people and that they would be saved because, as Jews, they belonged to that covenant. Salvation was based, then, on God’s covenant election. To be sure, Jews made a great deal of obeying the law. They obeyed God’s law, however, not to get saved but to stay saved, not to enter into the covenant but to stay in the covenant. Sanders dubbed this way of understanding first-century Judaism covenantal nomism. (Nomism comes from the Greek word for law, nomos, and is a deliberate contrast to legalism.) Although Sanders was not the first to argue this understanding of Judaism, his book came at the right time to create a significant shift in the scholarly consensus.

Many scholars now agree that Sanders’s covenantal nomism describes first-century Judaism accurately. But how, then, should we read Romans? What is Paul’s point when he claims, No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law (Rom. 3:20)? If Jews did not claim that a person had to do the law to be justified before God, why would Paul say this? Scholars have come up with quite a variety of answers to these questions. The most persuasive answers have come from James D. G. Dunn.³ Picking up from the first point above—about how Paul was most concerned with the people issue—Dunn argues that Paul’s problem with works of the law was that they excluded gentiles from God’s salvation in Christ. Jewish devotion to the law was wrapped up in the covenant that God made with Israel. But that covenant was made with Israel and not with the other peoples of the world. So when Christ came to offer salvation to all, obedience to the law could no longer be the focal point of the people of God. This is where the Jews were making their mistake, Dunn thinks. Their problem, in Paul’s view, was not that they were insisting that people had to obey the law to be saved. (Sanders had already shown that this was not the case.) Rather, their problem was that they were trying to keep God’s salvation to themselves by clinging to the law as their badge of national privilege. The problem Paul had with works of the law, then, was not so much the works part as the law part. With the coming of Christ, Paul was arguing in verses like Romans 3:20, being justified by God was no longer tied to the Jewish covenant but was freely available to everyone.

The kind of interpretation that Dunn argues has become widely accepted among scholars. Notable among these is N. T. Wright, who actually anticipated Dunn in suggesting a basic new perspective framework for reading Paul.⁴ But these two major figures have been joined by many others. Indeed, so widely accepted did the view become that it introduced a kind of paradigm shift in Pauline studies. This new way of reading Paul was dubbed the new perspective. Why focus attention on the new perspective? Because it suggests a different way of approaching and reading Romans. Our understanding of many individual verses and paragraphs in the letter will be changed if we adopt the new perspective as the lens through which we read the book.

So we have two different approaches to Romans on the table before us: (1) the Reformation approach, with its focus on individual salvation and assumption of Jewish legalism; and (2) the new perspective, with its focus on people groups and a covenantal nomistic view of Judaism. Which should we adopt? Or should we consider other options? How should we read Romans?

Getting Situated: How, Then, Should We Read?

Answering this question requires us to make two important preliminary points. First, the survey of interpretation might give the impression that the Reformation approach to Romans has been replaced by the new perspective. In fact, a considerable number of contemporary scholars continue to be persuaded that the Reformation reading is more accurate than the new perspective. In addition, as we noted above, other approaches have come along that, while not rivaling the new perspective in popularity, offer other options for our reading of Paul. Second, we must recognize that many other perspectives are competing among scholars as the best way of reading Romans. A view that has been around for almost four decades can no longer, perhaps, claim that it is new. Inevitably, other approaches to Paul and to Romans have surfaced over this period of time. Perhaps the most significant is what some are calling the radical new perspective. The scholars who advocate this approach think that the new perspective did not go nearly far enough. New perspective scholars share with the Reformation approach a view of Paul that has him critical of the Judaism of his day—they just locate this criticism in a different place. But some now want to say that Paul did not really criticize Judaism as such at all but only criticized the tendency of some Jews to deny gentiles the opportunity to share in the salvation that they already enjoyed. Jews, Paul taught, were to continue to do the law and to find salvation via the traditional means of atonement that God gave his people Israel. We will say more about this view later and interact with it where it becomes relevant in the text. But it is fair to say that this more radical approach has not (yet) ousted the new perspective as the dominant alternative to the Reformation approach. And so we will focus in this initial discussion on the two main alternatives, the Reformation approach and the new perspective.

Every reader of Romans must eventually make up his or her own mind about which overall approach to Romans produces the best fit with the actual teaching of the letter. And I encourage readers of the present volume to do just that as they work their way through the argument of the letter. As a help in this process, I often will indicate briefly how the two main opposing views—as well as others—would interpret key texts. But I will also advocate a certain approach to the letter that I think makes best sense of Paul’s teaching in its first-century context.

How, then, should we read Romans? I suggest a modified Reformation approach. Critics of the Reformers’ general line of interpretation, remember, offer two basic criticisms of their focus on individual salvation: (1) they ignore the centrality of people concerns for Paul; and (2) they wrongly assume that first-century Judaism was a legalistic religion. Both criticisms are somewhat justified.

Most contemporary readers of Romans do not share and perhaps have difficulty imagining the situation that Paul and the early Christians faced. The Messiah promised in the Old Testament and longed for

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