Nijay Gupta has posted a two-part interview series with NT prof Craig Keener, author of the Romans commentary in the New Covenant Commentary Series (Cascade/Wipf & Stock) with some outstanding material. Part 1 is here and part 2 here. A couple dandy quotes:
NKG: Based on your work on this commentary, can you give us a one-sentence summary of Paul’s message in Romans?
CK: How about something like: “The good news is God’s power to save everyone who believes, whether Jews or Gentiles, for God’s righteousness is revealed in it …” (Rom 1:16-17)… Oops, that doesn’t sound very original. How about: God’s way of righteousness is the same for both Jew and Gentile: depend on God for transforming righteousness.
The problem for an exegete is that every word I just said is loaded and debated, and I can’t say it without remembering that! There is a heavy emphasis on “believe” (I can’t type Greek letters in this email program), but I think modern western Christians have a terrible time with that word because of its subjective connotations for us since Kant and Kierkegaard. We try to work up a feeling of faith or suppress doubt, and miss the point. Faith is not its own object. When Jesus talks about a mustard seed of faith (sorry, remember I am still transitioning from my work in Gospels), his point is that it’s not how much faith you have, but in whom your faith is. The faith may be tiny but if it is in a very big God, God is more than big enough to make up for it. The point is not to have some subjective experience of undirected faith, but to put our trust in the One who is ultimately trustworthy.
NKG: While reading your book, I was stunned by the level of your knowledge and interaction with ancient Greco-Roman and early Jewish literature and how you interconnected related material. How does a broad and deep knowledge of ancient extra-biblical texts (from the same time period) contribute to one’s understanding of a New Testament document such as Romans? (One can certainly see you at work on the relevance issue in the commentary, but what would you say to someone with the mentality that the text’s message is perspicuous as is – or, as I sometimes call it, the ‘just give me Jesus’ approach?)
CK: I have tried to take to heart Martin Hengel’s warning that the NT is a short book, as far as scholarly disciplines go, and NT scholars ought to know its context better. I actually read a lot of ancient Mediterranean sources—Tacitus, Plato, Homer, Virgil, the Greek tragic and comic dramatists, and so forth—before my conversion to Christianity, as a young atheist. I hadn’t read more than a chapter of the Bible before I was converted. As a young Christian, I ditched these other sources and just immersed myself in the Bible—many weeks reading 40 chapters a day. But as I was immersing myself in the Bible, I realized that I wasn’t taking all of it seriously, despite my stated intention. If Paul says that he writes this letter to the “set-apart ones in Rome” (Rom 1:7), one has to take into account how they would have heard it. To ignore that question is to fail to take seriously this passage that explicitly anchors Romans in a concrete historical setting. It is simply naive to take a document written to a particular ancient setting, written in Greek, using figures of speech and cultural allusions that were shared assumptions by the ancient author and the author’s intended audience, and assume that we can read it without taking any of that into account. I’m not saying that we can’t get many correct ideas from a translation without additional background, but you will also miss a lot.
That is why I have spent a couple decades collecting data, reading through ancient sources and thinking of connections with the NT documents (and, in time, how what I learned from some ancient Mediterranean sources provides context for other Mediterranean sources). I enjoy exploring ancient literature, but I want especially to make my work useful for those who want to understand the NT better.
Lots more good stuff at Nijay’s page.