ESV Expository Commentary: Romans–Galatians (volume 10)

ESV Expository Commentary: Romans–Galatians, Volume 10 (Crossway, 2020).

This volume is the third NT entry in the ESV Expository Commentary series. It features an exposition of the first half of the Pauline Corpus: Romans by Robert Yarbrough, 1 Corinthians by Andy Naselli, 2 Corinthians by Dane Ortlund, and Galatians by Frank Thielman. 

This volume provides a substantial treatment of these first four Pauline epistles. Interestingly, the size of this volume alone signals the series' emphasis on Paul's letters and theology (e.g., this volume is 80 pages longer than the volume on John & Acts!). While probably reflecting in some ways the prioritization of Paul's letters in contemporary practice, this amount of space does allow these commentators to reflect upon the wide range of theological and practical issues that Paul addresses in these rich NT texts. 

Yarbrough helpfully gives a sense of the grandeur of Paul's unfolding display of the gospel's theo-logic in Romans. With an analytical emphasis, Naselli breaks down the complex series of issues and arguments in 1 Corinthians. Ortlund's treatment of 2 Corinthians is particularly reflective with an emphasis on pastoral wisdom threaded throughout the exposition. And Thielman helps make sense of Paul's exhortations about the nature of the law and the details of the Christian life in Paul's letter to the Galatians. 

For the rest of this brief review, I want to explore one particular strong point of the volume: the way Ortlund brings out Paul's pastoral and emotional ministry to the Corinthians, a church that brought Paul both joy and sorrow. 2 Corinthians could also be characterized as a "pastoral epistle," because it was written "by a pastor about his own pastoral work" (397). From Ortlund's perspective, "the unfiltered pathos and tumultuous emotions" of Paul's second letter to the Corinthians sets it apart "from every other book of the Bible." 

Ortlund reflects further that 2 Corinthians "exchanges the carefully unfolding depths of a letter such as Romans for the ricocheting emotions and personal upheaval that unfolds" throughout the text. "The letter is richly theological but not systematic. It is written with tears in the eyes. This is Paul the pastor more than Paul the professor" (397). This tone resonates with the master theme of 2 Corinthians: "strength in weakness." For Ortlund, Paul's major insight here is that "pain and incapacity are the strange and secret ingredients of spiritual power." Paul himself learned this lesson on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1–19) when "the living Christ confronted him and softened his heart and rearanged his understanding of how the Messiah would accomplish his purpose" (398). From this disposition, Paul makes his case in 2 Corinthians. 

This aspect of the letter can also explain some of the interpretive challenges noted by commentators. Because of significant shifts in tone and overall approach in different parts of the letter (particularly the positive remarks early in the letter and the more direct critiques later in the letter), some scholars argue that what we have as 2 Corinthians is in fact multiple compositions stitched together by a later editor. While acknowledging the abruptness of some of these shifts (e.g., the movement from 2 Cor 7:1 to 7:2), Ortlund connects these changes in tone and style to the broader task Paul engages in this letter. Just like 1 Corinthians moves from one social conflict to the next (because Paul is working through a catalogue of concerns), so too in 2 Corinthians, Paul is addressing pastoral issues of character and emotion from his own perspective as a pastor and apostle. 

Paul has been critiqued and misunderstood by some in the Corinthian community (see 2 Cor 2:1–4, 7:8) and thus "the letter from start to finish is filled with pathos" (402). For Ortlund, this readily apparent feature of 2 Corinthians as a whole has more explanatory power than any of the historical-critical alternative suggestions. Ortlund's argument here as well as his overall take on 2 Corinthians is not the only way to handle this remarkable text, but it is one that is textually grounded and pastorally helpful. His comment on preaching this letter is apt for any NT epistle but especially this one:

"A weak preacher heralding a strong Christ to weak people is the supreme calling of anyone who opens 2 Corinthians to his people." 

Some Notes:
Book Review
June 21, 2024


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