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Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Socio-Rhetorical Commentary) [Paperback]

By Ben Witherington (Author)
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Item description for Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Socio-Rhetorical Commentary) by Ben Witherington...

Continuing his series of highly regarded and innovative socio-rhetorical commentaries on the New Testament, Ben Witherington now tackles Romans, perhaps the most profound and difficult book of the New Testament. Interacting with recent treatments of this Pauline letter and with ancient Christian commentators, Witherington shows that the interpretation of Romans since the Reformation has been far too indebted to Augustinian readings of the text as filtered through Luther, Calvin, and others. Instead, Witherington urges a reading of the text in light of early Jewish theology, the historical situation of Rome, and Paul's own rhetorical concerns. Offering a new translation of the Greek text and new insights into Paul and his world, this commentary sheds fresh light on the meaning of Romans for its original audience and for Christian readers today.

Publishers Description
Continuing his series of socio-rhetorical commentaries on the New Testament, Ben Witherington now tackles Romans. Witherington shows that the interpretation of Romans since the Reformation has been far too indebted to Augustinian readings of the text as filtered through Luther, Calvin, and others.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Pages   421
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.34" Width: 6.34" Height: 0.98"
Weight:   1.45 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Mar 2, 2004
Publisher   Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Series  Socio-Rhetorical Commentary  
ISBN  0802845045  
ISBN13  9780802845047  

Availability  0 units.

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Reviews - What do customers think about Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary?

Superb! Very helpful study of Romans.  Jul 13, 2007
While not without a few minor faults, this work on Romans is a wonderful commentary to use for understanding the book of Romans. Romans is not so much a tractate on systematic theology by Paul, as if Paul sat down to write up a theology text. Many protestants and especially reformed christians have treated Paul's letter to the Romans as such. Paul's Romans correspondence is a letter though, occasioned by a certain historical concern pertaining to Paul in relation to the Roman christian's of his day. Paul's "theology" in Romans flows from this. Witherington for the most part does an outstanding job of zeroing in on the actual flow of and nature of Paul's letter, what was Paul getting at, why was Paul saying what he was saying and what did it mean in it's original setting back then. THis is true biblical study. What did the text mean in it's original setting. What was going on then, not just theologically, but also socially and historically in whatever it was that occasioned the writing in the first place. Witherington's study of Romans strives to lead the reader section by section through Romans with just such a purpose in mind. He procedes more or less section by section, but pretty much treats almost each "verse" along the way. He does an amazing job of not missing the forest for the trees. Witherington just about gets you feeling as if you were transported back into Paul's day in his situation and helps the letter to the Romans make sense according to it's own structure, content and meaning in it's first century setting. Witherington strives to unravel and explain Romans as it really is- correspondence from an ancient time between Paul and Roman christians wherein Paul is applying and explaining pastorally the gospel to them. The gospel meaning of Romans is really brought out by Witherington in it's fullness as well. There are a few minor small points to quibble with here or there, but honestly- they are far, far outweighed by the overall excellent work as a whole. Must reading for wrestling with Romans. Also worth checking out is Romans by Paul Achtemeier which is sort of similar to Witherington's in some ways, or for a more traditional reading of Romans along typical (ho-hum) reformed protestant lines, Robert Mounce's commentary on Romans.
The Best Arminian Commentary on Romans  Jun 30, 2006
This was a very interesting commentary. He wrestles with the text in the body of the book, and concludes each section with thoughts toward how the text applies to our lives.

He says that Paul is responding to the fact that the Jewish believers are returning to Rome and how he is trying to get the Gentile believers to accept their Jewish brothers and sisters in the faith (Romans 15:7).

He has some interesting readings of the text that part company with some of the more recent (and retro) Calvinist interpretations. He rejects the notion that Christ's righteousness is imputed to us through faith. He also sees Romans 7:7-13 as Paul personifying the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden, and he sees Romans 7:14-25 as the unsaved Jewish person (or unconverted person) struggling with their inability to live up to the good that they desire to do.

He also rejects the Calvinist reading of Romans 9, saying that it has nothing to do with election to salvation, but that it is dealing with how God has chosen individuals to play certain roles in salvation history (whether we're talking about protagonists like Jacob or antagonists like Esau and Pharoah).

He also interprets the 'all Israel' of Romans 11:25 as all the Jewish people alive at the time of Christ's return.

Though I might wonder about the interpretation of controverted texts such as Romans 8:29 and Romans 9:22, I thought that Ben's work was very solid, and he did a nice job of showing how this epistle works as a piece of Greco-Roman rhetoric. With the plethora of Calvinist commentaries on Romans that are available, it is refreshing to see another take. Get this commentary and use it along side the larger work of Douglas Moo and the equally impressive application commentary in the BST series by John R.W Stott.
Don't Panic!  Dec 28, 2005
On the front of this book in large, friendly letters, should be the words, `Don't Panic.' Anytime someone sees scholarly words like `socio' and `rhetorical,' especially when they are combined with a hyphen, I've found that they will normally go into a catatonic state that can only be broken by a beer or two.

All kidding aside, this is a great book about Romans. I appreciate Ben Witherington's writing style and so, for me, this was an easy book to slide into. Unlike many commentaries, Witherington presents his material in the same blocks of thought as the original writer rather than dissecting every single verse into individual components. That's not to say that he doesn't give information critical to individual verses. But, refreshingly, he does this in a manner which maintains the overall thought structure of the material.

Witherington's main proposition is that Romans was written to Gentile Christians who were having a hard time recognizing the value of their Jewish Christian brothers and sisters and thus causing disunity within the church in Rome. Witherington maintains that the book is written in a rhetorical format that was designed to prove a point - namely that the wonder of the new covenant is that it equally includes both Jew and Gentile.

His explanation of the place of Romans 9-11 in the total context of Romans is the best argument to date that I've seen. Also, his explanation of how the original listeners would have understood Romans 7 is quite intriguing and has many positive impacts upon the Christian life. Contrary to some of the other comments, it is critical for us to understand what the original listeners would have understood this letter to be saying (which may require an understanding of language and rhetoric) first, prior to applying the material. Though this is an oft-held hermenuetical principle, Witherington actually attempts to stick to it.

Like most of Witherington's other material, I still have not been convinced by him that a person is able to lose their salvation, which is a topic that comes up periodically in this commentary. However, it is not so imbued into the material that one cannot still attain great insights and gems of truth.

I would highly recommend this commentary to any student of Romans.

For a longer review, go to the blog listed in my nickname and click on the 'Readings' category.
Some Comments on Witherington's Commentary  Dec 27, 2005
I am not a Bible scholar or even an evangelical Protestant, and thus am not competent to evaluate the scholarship of Witherington's book. However, I have read it with interest and feel moved to make the following comments.

First, it seems to me that the scholarship tradition in which Witherington works is awfully scholastic, putting the interpretation of the Bible far beyond anything that the ordinary believer can partake in, requiring that an exegete be strongly grounded in the study of languages, ancient rhetoric and the minutiae of history. The implications of this view for Protestant theology are obvious and worrisome.

Secondly, this modern approach to the Bible makes the Scriptures toothless, by treating its texts as local, historically conditioned and concerned with a time and issues that are very far away from us and our modern lives and thus correspondingly hard to generalize when it comes to belief or practice. This is not what traditional exegetes took the Bible to be or to be read and it is difficult to see the Bible, read as Witherington reads it as very relevant to our modern situation, let alone the basis for Christian doctrine and practice. Witherington's chapters all end with a section called "Bridging the Horizons" (sic) that are supposed to discuss the implications of Romans for Christian praxis but, by and large, this is a thin gruel of ideas that are "radical" in their long-ago context but for us merely comfortable platitudes reflecting our our own contemporary view of things.

Finally, Witherington makes a good deal out of the supposed rhetorical structure of Romans, which he supposes that his exegetical opponents did not understand. This is hard to credit. Augustine was a trained rhetor and municipal professor of rhetoric at both Milan and Rome prior to his conversion. Calvin also received a humanistic education and had a thorough grounding in rhetoric. It is very likely that both of these men would have been thoroughly familiar with classic treatises of rhetoric, such as Quintillian's, Witherington's constant point of reference when discussing the supposed rhetorical structure of Romans. It is not credible that Augustine and Calvin would have been unable to recognize the rhetorical elements in Romans or have misunderstood their significance. I am more inclined to think that Witherington must be exagerrating the significance of these elements in Paul's epistles. At any rate, I would like to see some further discussion of this point.

Athough I find myself attracted to Witherington's reading of Romans,for the reasons given I am not entirely persuaded by what he has written. Since my scholarship in this area is limited, I would probably recommend this book to others despite my misgivings. Others more competent to judge, however, might well disagree.

A fresh view of Romans  Dec 17, 2005
As Ben Witherington says in the Preface, this commentary does not pretend to be exhaustive or the definitive work on Romans. Nevertheless, it is a notable one in that most readers will gain a fresh view of Paul's most important letter, even readers who are already familiar with the intricacies of Romans. How so? W. demonstrates convincingly that Paul used known Greco-Roman rhetorical principles and techniques to specific ends. The whole letter, in its structure and development, is seen as an example of deliberative rhetoric, designed to persuade or dissuade, or "the rhetoric of advice and consent." W. contends that failure to recognize the rhetoric at play has led to many misinterpretations of the letter since early times. On some points he bravely takes on Augustine and Luther and, among the moderns, such prominent interpreters of Romans as Cranfield and Kasemann.

One may cite many features of the commentary, but a few should suffice here. W.'s theological comments and notes are not new, but necessary for his argument. Imputed righteousness is a "received concept" stemming from the Latin translation of Erasmus but is not what Paul meant. Interesting are various passages that call attention to the radical nature of Paul's thinking. So is the explanation of the rhetorical technique of personification - of sin, death, Law, even grace. Sometimes W. sparkles, as when he says the effect of the contrast between Adam and Christ in Romans 5 "is like a Rembrandt painting - the dark backdrop of Adam's sin serves to highlight the brightness and clarity of God's grace gift." Two consecutive chapters on Romans 7, Retelling Adam's Tale and Adam's Lost Race, in my view make up one of the best moments of the commentary. Paul never neglected the ethical side in his letters, nor does our good author, to which matter he devotes ample comment. A minor annoyance is that W's translation does not include verse numbers, although the comments constantly refer to specific verses. A more serious blemish occurs in one Bridging the Horizons section (p. 97), where W. speaks of some scholars' "posturing," "insecurities," "lack of ego strength," and "feelings of low self-worth" - disappointing remarks in a commentary of this worth. Yet the overall excellence of the commentary makes one overlook the faux pas.

Has W. then conclusively proven his case (shared with other scholars of similar bent)? No, for that would close the book on Romans. This letter has engaged interpreters for many hundreds of years and one would expect it will continue to do so, informed by more research and study, or even - why not? - surprising new perceptions. But what W. has written is remarkable. It's been a long time since I found a commentary so engrossing.

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