I thought it would be interesting to compare the different ways various commentaries structure Paul’s letter to the Romans. I’m only working with the commentaries I have access to, so this is not a comparison of the major commentaries by any means. Secondly, I’m only giving the basic outline; some commentaries have very detailed outlines but I’m just giving the big picture they present, or this post would become unwieldy very quickly! Then I’ll offer a few observations about the similarities and differences.

Grant Osborne (IVP NTC)

  • Paul introduces his mission and the Gospel (1:1-17)
  • Universality of human sinfulness (1:18-3:20)
  • Salvation from God on the basis of faith (3:21-8:39)
  • Defending God’s covenant: Rejection of the Jews and inclusion of the Gentiles (9:1-11:36)
  • Living life in the Spirit (12:1-15:13)
  • Paul concludes his epistle (15:14-16:27)

Craig Keener (NCCS)

  • Introduction (1:1-17)
  • Made right by trusting Christ (1:18-5:11)
  • Life in Christ and the Spirit (5:12-8:39)
  • Israel’s role and salvation (9:1-11:36)
  • Living the Christian life (12:1-15:13)
  • Closing (15:14-16:27)

Thomas Schreiner (BECNT)

  • The Gospel as the revelation of God’s righteousness (1:1-17)
  • God’s righteousness in His wrath against sinners (1:18-3:20)
  • The saving righteousness of God (3:21-4:25)
  • Hope as a result of righteousness by faith (5:1-8:39)
  • God’s righteousness to Israel and the Gentiles (9:1-11:36)
  • God’s righteousness in everyday life (12:1-15:13)
  • The extension of God’s righteousness through the Pauline mission (15:14-16:23)
  • Final summary of the Gospel of God’s righteousness (16:25-27)

Douglas Moo (NICNT)

  • The letter opening (1:1-17)
  • The heart of the Gospel (1:18-4:25)
  • The assurance provided by the Gospel (5:1-8:39)
  • The defense of the Gospel (9:1-11:36)
  • The transforming power of the Gospel (12:1-15:13)
  • The letter closing (15:14-16:27)

Colin Kruse (PNTC)

  • Introduction (1:1-17)
  • Exposition and defines of the Gospel (1:18-11:36)
    • Humanity under the power of sin and exposed to wrath (1:18-3:20)
    • God’s saving Righteousness revealed (3:21-4:25)
    • Justification brings freedom and hope (5:1-8:39)
    • Israel and the purposes of God (9:1-11:36)
  • The ethical outworking of the Gospel (12:1-15:13)
    • The basis of Paul’s ethical appeal (12:1-2)
    • The believer’s relationships with others (12:3-21)
    • Christians and the Roman authorities (13:1-7)
    • Love fulfils the law (13:8-10)
    • Living in the light of the coming of the day (13:11-14)
    • Instructions for the ‘weak’ and the ‘strong’ (14:1-15:13)
    • Paul’s ministry and future plans (15:14-33)
  • Conclusion (16:1-27)

Ben Witherington (Socio-Rhetorical Commentary)

Witherington takes a distinct approach by reading the letter through the lens of rhetoric. This results in a unique outline. Witherington’s outline is more detailed than space allows here, but this is his basic structure.

  • Opening (1:1-7a)
  • Greeting (1:7b)
  • Exordium/Prayer (1:8-10)
  • Narratio (1:11-15)
  • Propositio (1:16-17)
  • Probatio (1:18-3:20)
  • Recapitulation and expansion of propositio (3:21-31, 4:1-8:39)
  • Refutatio (9:1-15:13)
  • Peroratio (15:14-21)
  • Reference to travel plans (15:22-33)
  • Concluding greetings and instructions (16:1-16)
  • Supplemental perorate to Jewish Christians (16:17-20)
  • Concluding greetings from coworkers (16:21-23)
  • Final benediction (16:25-27)

Marvin Pate (Teach the Text)

Pate also takes a distinctive approach by seeing the letter as following the structure of Deuteronomy, with Paul showing how the New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant.

Romans: Replacement of Old Covenant with New Covenant

  • Preamble (1:1-15)
  • Historical Prologue (1:16-17)
  • Stipulations (1:18-4:25)
  • Blessings (5-8)
  • Curses (9-11)
  • Appeal to witnesses (12:1-15:13)
  • Document clause (15:14-16:27)

My Thoughts

Now, an outline of Romans should come from studying Paul’s flow of thought in the letter itself, and not starting with an outline and then imposing it onto the letter. I acknowledge this! Secondly, ones opinion of commentators and their interpretation of Romans should not be judged purely on outlines. That said, here are some thoughts that come to mind when comparing these commentaries’ outlines.

  • Witherington’s and Pate’s outlines fit Romans more with an outside structure rather than only the inner logic of the letter. If their proposals are right (can they both be right?), that Paul was purposefully structuring the letter this way, then we can be quite certain we have a good outline; but conversely, if the proposed structure is wrong, then surely so is the outline.
  • Basically all outlines (save Withrington and Pate) see Rom 1:1-17 as introduction. While Paul’s letters certainly have distinct introductions, Romans is quite unique because there is quite a lot of content in Rom 1:1-17, most importantly Rom 1:16-17. Is it right seeing this as introduction? Does that seem to underestimate the content? However, Witherington’s outline implies that Rom 1:16-17 is the theme of the whole letter.
  • Though the broad outlines appear quite different at first glance, they all still acknowledge four main parts to the letter: chapters 1-4, 5-8, 9-11, and 12-15. Moo and Pate are the most obvious here, but closer inspection of the others shows that they all basically agree here. Some split 1-4 into 1-3a and 3b-4 (Osborne, Schreiner, Kruse, creating a unique section on universal sinfulness), and Osborne joins 3b-4 with 5-8; but ultimately the basic 4-part distinction is recognized by all (though not so clearly in Witherington).
    It seems fair to conclude then that 1-4, 5-8, 9-11, and 12-15 (or a small variation thereof) form the basic big ‘movements’ in the letter.
  • So is it right to see 1-4, 5-8, 9-11, and 12-15 as four equal parts? Kruse sees two big sections: 1-11 and 12-15, with 1-11 comprising of three units (1-4, 5-8, and 9-11). The benefit to this outline is recognizing 1-11 as one larger flow of thought, and 12-15 as practical exhortations (notice that all commentators except Witherington have 12-15 as a separate unit). Too often, we have broken up Romans as justification (1-4), sanctification (5-8), some disconnected thoughts about Israel (9-11), and practical application (12-15). Bringing 9-11 back into Paul’s main thought makes good sense (since 1-8 is full of ‘Jewish’ concerns, not least chapter 7), and I think this is reflected by Kruse’s outline. This doesn’t necessarily mean other commentators don’t do the same, but Kruse does it in his outline.
  • Keener sees 1:18-5:11 and 5:11-8:39 as two units (rather than 1-4 and 5-8). While the entire letter of Romans is a concentrated argument and any outlines realize this, I’m skeptical of splitting chapter 5 in half since the whole chapter seems to tightly connected.

I’m sure more could be said. What’s interesting to me is that none of the outlines seem different enough to radically alter the way one understands/teaches the letter (except possibly Witherington’s). With a few smaller variations, these commentaries are united with a broadly similar structure of Romans.

I would welcome any comments on this; perhaps you have some insights that I have missed?