Grant Osborne is professor of New Testament at TEDS and a prolific commentator, offering well-received work on Revelation and Matthew, with Mark coming this year in the new Teach the Text series. His commentary for Romans in the IVP New Testament Commentary series (IVPNTC) is also very popular. Having just taught through Romans and worked through Osborne’s commentary, I can see why.
The IVPNTC series is designed to move naturally from solid exposition of the biblical the text to its application today and in that sense it is like a bridge between scholarship and the lay person. Alongside Osborne’s Romans, I have only read portions of Beale’s 1&2 Thessalonians, and what is common to both is a very organic link between scholarly concerns and contemporary relevance. At times we are knee deep in exegesis and it feels more like a Pillar or BECNT commentary, and other times we are in a sermon-like illustration or applicational section more in common with a Preaching the Word commentary. I will comment in more depth below on how Osborne manages both.
As to specific views and conclusions, here are some choice quotes and summaries on sections throughout Romans:
- Rom 2:6-11 is for Christians but it is important to realize it is not speaking about “the process of regeneration but the obligation of Christian living” (p65). It’s not about how one gets saved but about obedience that God expects.
- Rom 3:22 is translated “faith in Jesus”.
- Rom 5:12-21 teaches that mankind has inherited the corruption of Adam and then all individually have sinned. He calls this “mediate imputation” (p138), the more standard Arminian position.
- Rom 7:1-12 has Paul “[using] his own experience to describe the basic human situation” (p174).
- Rom 7:13-25 and Rom 8 are not giving “a comparison not of the unsaved and the saved but of the Christian trusting the flesh and the Christian living in the Spirit” (p182) and concludes with the Christian “trying to defeat sin in his own strength and finally learning to surrender to the Spirit” (p182). So is it not describing different people, but two alternative paths that the Christian can pursue.
- Rom 8:28-30 teaches individual election to salvation conditioned upon foreseen faith, “on the basis of divine foreknowledge of each one’s faith decision, God chooses those who turn to Christ to be his children” (p222). Osborne rejects corporate election only, as “God has chosen individuals who form the church. The corporate includes the individual” (p222).
- Rom 9 teaches individual election to salvation, like Rom 8:28-30, conditioned upon foreseen faith. Though “it certainly does provide strong evidence for double predestination [… the] question of foreknowlege (8:29) and human responsibility (9:30-33) must be considered before a final decision is reached.” (p253).
- Rom 11:26 refers to “the restoration and conversion of Israel at the second coming” (p308).
- Rom 14-15:6 is about difficulties with Jewish and Gentile Christians, where the “Jewish Christians have a weak faith (14:2) that is unable to grasp the reality of the new covenant Christ has established” (p356).
As seen from the above quotes, Osborne tends towards common Arminian conclusions, but these are not just presuppositions but well-argued from the text itself. Osborne has a very careful and subtle exegesis; he is not afraid to let the text take him to a different conclusion than is comfortable. Despite quite Arminian leanings, Osborne at times sounds very similar to Schreiner. In fact, I requested this commentary as it is a well-respected commentary representing the Arminian position, but was surprised that he sometimes sounds very Calvinistic! Back to Schreiner; at times Osborne seemed a little too close to him for me. I was using both in weekly preparation and was surprised at how similar even Osborne’s wording was to Schreiner’s on a given passage. It appears that he leaned quite heavily on Schreiner’s work in his exegesis, even if he differed with his conclusions (Rom 7, 8, and 9 in particular).
A problem lies in the format and audience of the IVPNTC series itself. The attempt to wed thorough exegesis with contemporary application at times results in the commentary doing neither overly well. If one is after exegesis, the application will likely get in the way and the binding of the book is not practical for using as a reference. If one is after an applicational commentary, the exegesis will likely be too much and including the footnotes in the text does not “read” well. This raises the question of the intended audience and whether one should choose this commentary over two commentaries aimed to fill the two different needs, and better equipped to do so.
If one has Schreiner or Moo, I doubt there will be much “new” here, except for where he differs on broader Arminian concerns. If one is after an Arminian alternative on Romans or to read alongside and serve as a “foil” for, then this is certainly recommended. Osborne presents a very nuanced and balanced argumentation for his conclusions, which all deserve to be heard. This would serve nicely as a slightly less-academic, more devotional, and Arminian alternative to Schreiner or Moo; however, the very little difference in terms of actual exegesis and the format of the series itself lessen its overall value in comparison.
[Many thanks to IVP UK for providing a copy in exchange for a fair review.]