Robert J. Karris, O.F.M. writes his commentary for “beginners and those who want a quick refresher course for preaching…who want clear but not simplistic exposition.” The former New Testament editor for the original Collegeville Bible Commentary, treats Galatians and Romans together in volume 6 of this new and updated series. The reader should not regard the brevity of the commentary as an indicator that it is limited to the novice. His bibliography reflects his employment of a wide range of commentaries and recent scholarship. He includes rhetorical insights, scholarly concepts, Greek word studies, and often cites extra-biblical sources that inform even the seasoned reader. His commentary is punctuated with colorful anecdotes and personal illustrations.
Fr. Karris describes the master plan of Galatians as an “R & R” letter. Paul “rebukes” the Galatians for deserting the Gospel of Christ (1:1-4:11) and passionately “requests” they remain as his friends standing firm in their Christian freedom (4:12-6:18). Karris sees the composition of the letter as large blocks of preformed materials combined with unique, situational sections. Paul rhetorically “cements” the preformed materials to the situational blocks with his ethos, logic, and pathos.
Galatians was written to counter the teachings of outsiders who Karris describes as “teachers and influencers,” rather than “Judaizers and opponents.” It is not that they are trying to “earn heaven by their meritorious deeds.” Rather, they seem to have misunderstood God’s plan for the community of faith by taking the Abrahamic Covenant as their starting point (Gen. 17:10). Paul argues from preformed materials that Jesus Christ is the starting point and Abraham is his illustration. In Genesis 15:6 Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness which preceded the Abrahamic Covenant. Abraham is the “father of faith not of circumcision.” Hence, the center of Paul’s theology is the death of Jesus Christ on the cross which is sufficient for man’s salvation.
Karris’ follows the traditional letter outline for Romans and interjects a challenge to the reader. He proposes a “courageous” approach to the letter by reading it in one sitting with emphasis on the person pronouns. A “pronoun-rich” reading of Romans will move the reader beyond the Sunday Lectionary to the “strong food of rhetorical criticism.” This approach highlights Paul’s use of scholastic diatribe with an imaginary interlocutor. Focusing on Paul’s rhetoric, Karris demonstrates the Apostle’s use of ethos, logic, and pathos to develop his topics thematically, presenting his thesis and antithesis for each.
In this concise commentary on Romans, Karris maintains his focus on the centrality of the death of Christ on the cross as the sufficiency for man’s salvation. He clearly develops his view that Paul wrote Romans as a letter of persuasion—a protreptic letter—designed to garner support from the Roman Christians for his gospel enterprise to Spain. Fr. Karris consistently points out Paul’s use of diatribe throughout the Roman letter. At points where he believes the NAB has “masked” the clearer meaning of the Greek text, he provides his own translation. He includes an enlightening commentary on the eight women and their unique leadership roles in Chapter 16.
The New Collegeville Bible Commentary Series employs the revised New American Bible text (1991) displayed conveniently for the reader at the top of each page. The biblical text is cross referenced to passages treated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The author includes a helpful section of review aids and discussion topics suitable for individual study or group discussion. The New Collegeville Bible Commentary series is affordably priced and attractively bound. Karris has made another solid contribution to the Collegeville commentaries with Galatians and Romans. Although he targets those in the pastoral setting, a wide range of readers will find this commentary a valuable resource for New Testament studies.