This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2014 vol. 171 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Romans: Interpreted by Early Christian CommentatorsWm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids March 1, 2012
The series The Church’s Bible is a collection of fairly lengthy passages from ancient commentaries and sermon series from the first five hundred years of the church.
The volume begins with a two-page series introduction (pp. ix–x) and a ten-page section on interpreting the New Testament in the early church (pp. xiii-xxii), both written by the series editor, Robert Wilken. Burns contributes a five-page introduction that focuses on the structure of Romans, early interpretations, the text of the Pauline letters (which covers matters of manuscript evidence, the present text which follows the structure of Joseph Fitzmyer’s commentary, a rational for the passages selected, and a brief comment on access to the complete texts of some of the important ancient works on Romans; pp. xxiii–xxvii).
The body of the text is basically lengthy quotations on Romans from a number of ancient Christian writers. Each chapter begins with a brief introduction by Burns and is divided into smaller units of texts for comment. Thus each unit has a number of quotations from different writers. The Revised Standard Version translation of the passage is included. Also within the quotations the biblical text is in bold font for easy recognition. The editor allows the ancient texts to speak for themselves. There is no critique or comment on the ancient authorities.
The end of the volume includes two helpful appendixes. First is a brief discussion of ancient authors used in the volume. There are not many: Ambrosiaster, Apollinaris, Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria, Gennadius of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, Origen, Pelagius, and Theodoret. Some anonymous quotations are also included. A second appendix is a list of the references for all the quotations used in each section. In addition the book includes three indexes (names, subjects, Scripture).
The strength of this volume is that it provides lengthy comments by each author. There is enough here to help the reader get the flow of thought of the writer. Also, since there are so few authors used, one can easily follow the writings of a specific author. However, this can be misleading, since the comments do not always directly follow the original work.
InterVarsity Press is publishing a similar series called Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS). The volume on Romans (edited by Gerald Bray, and published in 1998) is almost the same size (xvii + 404 pp.). The main difference is organization and the size of the quotations. The ACCS is organized by verse and has short quotations. Burns’s volume is organized by larger passages with much more text of the ancient authors included. Both are great for finding illustrations; however, the ACCS is easier for finding nice, short, catchy illustrations. The Church’s Bible is better for following the thought of the ancient writer on a specific passage.
This volume is helpful both for insights into Romans and for illustrations. It will be most useful for those who desire to delve into the history of interpretation. This volume can be used throughout the exegetical process but will not be a major contributor to that endeavor. The lengthy quotations allow readers to appreciate the arguments; however, readers will also need to carefully evaluate them.
—Joseph D. Fantin