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BOOK REVIEW

His exegesis is thorough for the audience he’s catering to. His word studies are very valuable and helpful. And his writing is clear.

Romans: An Exegetical Study
Truth for Today Commentary (Resource Publications, 2018) by Paul Pollard.
Reviewed by David Nelson

As Dean of Academics at the South Pacific Bible College, I’m a regular reader of various theological works, including commentaries. In my view, a commentator worthy of his salt should be understandable to his intended audience, objective not polemical, familiar with various interpretive issues, conversant with current biblical scholarship, and not afraid to express challenging conclusions. 

Paul Pollard doesn’t disappoint in this impressive 616-page commentary on the magnum opus of the Apostle Paul, the epistle to the church in Rome. A longtime (now retired) Bible faculty at Harding University and current church elder, Pollard undertook graduate studies at Harding School of Theology and Oxford University, and gained a PhD from Baylor University. 

In this volume of the Truth for Today commentary series, Pollard ably fulfils the series’ purpose of producing
commentaries by Bible scholars from Churches of Christ primarily for readers among Churches of Christ.      

The commentary avoids technical jargon, giving it popular-level appeal for its intended audience of preachers, Bible class teachers, and others who want to go deeper in their Bible study. Although the editorial effort has produced a very readable volume, the eagle-eyed reader will spot an unwittingly contentious typo on page 237 (line 6). It should read: ‘Paul did not want an all-Gentile church’!

Besides reaching his intended audience, Pollard also delivers on another aim of this commentary series: to provide remarks on virtually every verse, with focused word studies of significant terms. This attention to the meaning of words is one of the strong aspects of this commentary, providing enrichment and clarity to help readers better understand Paul’s epistle. 

A 26-page introduction sets the scene by addressing topics like the epistle’s authorship, audience, occasion, general background, and some key critical issues such as Paul’s purpose in writing. The commentary then continues the pattern of the Truth for Today series, breaking down comments according to chapter divisions. An overview begins each section, summarising Paul’s thoughts and arguments in the chapter, followed by a verse-by-verse commentary (including word studies), and ending with an application section. It’s a well-organised layout that most readers will find useful and easy to follow. 

Pollard’s thorough commentary and copious footnotes shows he’s familiar with the latest scholarship on Paul and the Roman letter. He gives his readers interpretive options throughout the commentary and usually states what he believes is the best or correct interpretation. For instance, he discusses a hotly debated phrase in Romans 3:22 that can equally be translated as ‘through faith in Jesus Christ’ or ‘through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ’. Pollard briefly discusses the interpretative options and the theological implications of each possible translation, and then ends with his interpretation and theological viewpoint (p 120–121). His ability to alert the reader to the major debates in interpretation and then clearly and succinctly summarise them is one of the strengths of the commentary; and he does so without being polemical.

Two areas, however, are less satisfying. Pollard, in places, appears to go beyond the exegesis of the text by discussing particular issues which the text doesn’t explicitly address. For example, in an otherwise excellent exegesis of Romans 6:1-11, he includes comments on the topic of baptism and how it’s been understood and misunderstood. While these comments may be appealing to some, others may find them detracting from the main argument of the text.

The application section occasionally also suffers from a similar drawback. While some of Pollard’s applications flow directly out of the argument in Paul’s letter – such as how God works in this world (p 348–349) – some applications don’t appear to. For example, in his application of Romans 4, Pollard’s focus on the topic of faithful obedience manages to include comments on the doctrine of ‘faith only’, as well as discussing baptism and its relationship to faith and salvation. While what he says may be true, is this really an application of Paul’s argument here? Arguably not.

While there are various places in the commentary with which one can differ, Pollard’s Romans commentary is a good one. His exegesis is thorough for the audience he’s catering to. His word studies are very valuable and helpful. And his writing is clear.

This will be a fine study resource to have on Paul’s masterful epistle. 

David Nelson is Dean of Academics, South Pacific Bible College, Tauranga, New Zealand. He and his wife, Mary, are part of the Otumoetai Church of Christ in Tauranga.      dnelson@spbc.org.nz

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