C. Marvin Pate is chair of the department of Christian theology and Elma Cobb Professor of Christian Theology at Ouachita Baptist University and pastor of DeGray Baptist Church. His commentary on Romans is the first in the Teach the Text Commentary Series, which looks to be very promising.
As always, when a new commentary is introduced, the editors feel the need (and rightly so) for giving the rationale to readers for yet another commentary series. These commentaries, are specifically designed “to provide a ready reference for the exposition of the biblical text, giving easy access to information that a pastor needs to communicate the text effectively.” (vii) The divisions of the biblical are thus aimed at preaching units, and often throughout the body of the text the commentator offers explicit recommendations for how he approach certain passages.
These preaching units are further divided into the following sections:
- Big Idea (exactly what it sounds like, the single point you could boil the text down to)
- Key Themes (meant to support and flesh out the big idea)
- Understanding the Text (semi-traditional exposition)
- Teaching the Text (those recommendations I just mentioned)
- Illustrating the Text (drawn from literature, film, history, biography, personal anecdotes)
The “Understanding the Text” section is further broken down to include the following elements:
- Text in Context (rhetorical insights)
- Historical and Cultural Background (helpful background details, often pictures)
- Interpretive Insights
- Theological Insights
This gives the commentary a nice flow to it, and keeps the focus on the essentials for teaching the text. Depending on how you look at it, this is either good or bad. Pate does a good job of being concise, offers numerous side bars and charts, and explains things clearly. If one were to use this commentary as a sole resource for preaching/teaching Romans, I think it would be a bad idea, but used alongside a major exegetical commentary (like Moo, Schreiner, or Kruse) it would a nice homiletical companion.
If I were going into more detail with Romans in my New Testament class, this would be what I would use. Pate gets straight to the point (which means there are not a lot of endnotes, usually only a half dozen per section) and if I were teaching a class just on Romans (which isn’t a bad idea) I would be relying much more heavily on this commentary than I did.
As far as actually commenting on Romans, Pate does a good job. He sees Romans itself as following the ANE suzerain-vassal treaties, but as a charter new covenant document. His outline then looks like this:
- Preamble (1:1-15)
- Historical Prologue (1:16-17)
- Stipulations (1:18-4:25)
- Blessings (5-8)
- Curses (9-11)
- Appeal to Witnesses (12:1-15:13)
- Document Clause (15:14-16:27)
I’m thinking the last two might be switched up, as either a typo or editorial oversight. Either way, while interesting, I’m not sure I buy it just yet. Paul does rely heavily on Deuteronomy in Romans, but I’m not sure the structure comes from it or the treaty form.
Elsewhere, Pate tries to blend Calvinism and Arminian insights into a Calminian position when discussing 9:6-29 (194). I’m wary of mediating positions (like new covenant theology) and I think is perhaps worse since both Calvinists and Arminians denounce Calminian as a viable or coherent option. This isn’t a fatal flaw in the commentary per se, but it is at least one unhelpful theological insight.
On the plus side, I was impressed with the couple of anecdotes that Pate offered in his illustrations. Some of them came from another author (which is the only reason I can think why The Shack would be suggested as helpful for understanding the Trinity, 121), but in a couple of places Pate shares how he started his commitment to read the Bible for an hour every morning as a preparation for going into ministry (146-147) and that he prayed to be afflicted with the same rare, chronic illness that his wife has so he can understand her suffering better (115, and God said yes!). Though those don’t pertain to commentating on Romans specifically, I did find them helpful for the particular texts they were connected with.
Like I said, this volume shouldn’t replace Moo, Kruse, or Schreiner on your shelf, but for a homiletical commentary, I think this series is much better than Preach the Word. That series is more offering actual expositions, while this series is much more detail oriented works section by section through each preaching unit. In that sense, Preach the Word is like sample sermons to give you an idea of the flow of the text, whereas Teach The Text is more of the spare parts you need all in one place to put together a quality sermon. Pate does a great job of guiding readers through Romans and giving his interpretive wisdom and insight into how to best teach this text.
- Author: C. Marvin Pate
- Title: Romans (Teach The Text Commentary Series)
- Publisher: Baker Books (January 15, 2013)
- Hardcover: 368pgs
- Reading Level: General Reader
- Audience Appeal: Pastor/Teachers and lay readers who want to dive into an accesible Romans commentary
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Baker Books)