Commentaries should not replace personal Bible study, but they can supplement your study.
In this article, I summarize my favorite commentaries on the book of Romans. This is not a comprehensive critical review of each volume. I will not analyze each commentator's view on key passages in Romans. This is a brief summary of each volume to help you decide on your first or next Romans commentary purchase.
I have designated each commentary under one of three categories.
- Devotional Commentaries: these commentaries are designed to help average Bible readers understand the meaning of the text. No Greek is required. All theological terms are clearly defined.
- Mid–level Commentaries: these commentaries will often reference the original Greek. You do not need to know Greek, but the commentator assumes a basic understanding of Greek grammar and theological terms.
- Technical Commentaries: these commentaries contain Greek words and phrases using the Greek alphabet. Without a familiarity with New Testament Greek, popular theological works, and scholarly references, you will find these commentaries more difficult to understand.
1. John MacArthur (Devotional)
John MacArthur’s Romans 1-8 commentary was the first commentary I had every purchased. I read it cover to cover in less than one month during my freshman year in college. Afterward, I waited 3 years for the publication of MacArthur’s second volume on Romans 9-16.
Most Christians should consider this 2 volume set as their first Romans commentary purchase. MacArthur’s commentaries are readable. The Greek is transliterated. Based on the NASB translation, the commentary contains the best content of MacArthur’s 120+ sermons in written form.
MacArthur is generally very thorough in his Romans commentary. He does not spend much space entertaining all interpretative options, but that's fine when most of his interpretative conclusions are right.
2. Douglas Moo (NICNT 2nd Edition 2018) (Mid-Level)
The next purchase to consider is Moo’s contribution to the NICNT series. Like other NICNT volumes, this Romans commentary is accessible to everyone, and it provides more detailed scholarship than MacArthur. Over 1000 pages long, Moo’s commentary packs a lot of additional exegetical details in its footnotes.
For most people who do not plan to read Romans in the original Greek, Moo and MacArthur pack a great one two punch. Moo’s views on the interpretation of Romans 9-11 differ from MacArthur’s. Both volumes are solid overall in both exegesis and theology.
Moo also wrote the NIVAC Romans commentary, but the NICNT volume is the best volume to get next.
3. C.E.B. Cranfield (ICC) (Technical)
Written in 1975-1979 and somewhat liberal, Cranfield’s ICC commentary is the best technical Romans commentary. When I initially used this 2 volume set in medical school, I only knew the Greek alphabet; it was very hard for me to use this commentary initially.
But now, whenever I have trouble understanding the Greek in Romans, I immediately refer to Cranfield's exegetical commentary. I don’t agree with many of Cranfield’s conclusions in Romans 5, 7 and 9. But that does not detract the value of this resource. If you want to study the Greek text to Paul's epistle to the Romans, Cranfield's commentary is absolutely required.
4. Leon Morris (Pillars - 1988) (Mid-Level)
Because I read through Leon Morris's commentary early in my Christian life, this commentary has a special place in my heart. One can argue that since this volume has been replaced by Kruse’s 2012 volume, this commentary must be inferior. I beg to differ.
Morris’ theology is conservative, and moderately reformed. His commentary is consistently solid throughout all 16 chapters of Romans. For a layperson, this volume is the best next purchase to complement Moo’s commentary as your second mid-level commentary.
5. John Murray (NICNT - Classic 1959) (Mid-Level)
If you espouse Reformed theology, John Murray’s classic NICNT volume is invaluable. Murray wastes no space interacting with secondary literature. His focus is explaining the primary text and its theological implications.
Even if you do not agree with all of Murray’s theology, this volume can still be helpful. I routinely reference Murray when I survey a wider range of Romans commentators. Moo’s NICNT 1996 commentary, however, has replaced this volume as my preferred mid-level commentary.
6. Thomas Schreiner (BECNT 2nd Edition - 2018) (Technical)
Thomas Schreiner is one of my favorite New Testament scholars, and his contribution to the Baker’s Exegetical Commentary series is excellent. As a reformed Baptist, Schreiner is theologically more conservative than Cranfield. This is a strong positive for me.
If you could only purchase one technical commentary, I recommend Cranfield’s ICC set more. But this is a great second technical commentary. Even though I categorize Schreiber’s commentary as technical, this commentary is much more accessible than Cranfield. If you have only studied first year Koine Greek, Schriener’s commentary might be preferred. I would also purchase Moo’s commentary before Schreiner’s.
7. F.F. Bruce (Tyndale - revised 1985) (Mid-Level)
Bruce provides a wealth of insight in his accessible mid-level commentary. This is my recommended commentary if you could only purchase one inexpensive volume, since it is more affordable than MacArthur’s two volume set. If you are looking for multiple Romans commentaries to add to your library, Bruce’s commentary becomes less desirable.
8. James Dunn (WBC) (Technical)
You need Dunn’s 2 volume Romans commentary set if you need to complete a Greek exegesis writing assignment for seminary. Otherwise, I would rank this technical commentary behind Cranfield and Schriener for most pastors, teachers and Bible students.
The bibliographies in Dunn’s volumes are comprehensive, and his references to secondary sources is unsurpassed. I was constantly distracted by Dunn’s liberal conclusions. Because I don’t agree with his Pauline theology, more discernment was needed when using Dunn's commentary. I give two enthusiastic thumbs up for scholarship. I do not recommend this technical commentary for most people since there are at least two or three better choices.
9. Colin Kruse (Pillars - Updated 2012)
Because I studied Leon Morris’s commentary extensively for over 10 years before Kruse’s commentary was released, I have a personal bias. Many of my colleagues prefer Kruse’s 2012 Pillars commentary over Morris’s 1988 original Pillars commentary.
More recently written, Kruse's commentary is able to address the New Perspectives of Paul (NPP) viewpoint. If you need a commentary that addresses N.T. Wright’s NPP, recent commentaries like Kruse will prove helpful.
I have not read N.T. Wright's volume on Romans, so I cannot comment on his volume of work.
7 Other Romans Commentaries
- James Montgomery Boice (Devotional): Boice wrote 4 volumes on Romans. His commentaries are very accessible and not dense. Boice’s commentaries help me meditate at the end of my Romans reading or study session. Each time I read a chapter, it is like a seasoned Reformed pastor personally explaining to me why the spiritual truths in Romans are so significant.
- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Devotional): This 14 volume set covers the Romans 1–14. I have only flipped through a few parts of this set. The commentary is based on Lloyd–Jones’s sermon series in Westminster Chapel. He did not preach through Romans 15–16 due to health reasons.
- Douglas Moo (NIVAC) (Devotional): If you are only looking for very accessible commentaries, Moo’s NIVAC volume makes a great addition. Most people, however, should use his NICNT commentary instead.
- Grant Osborne (IVPNT) (Mid-Level): This is an alternative to F.F. Bruce’s Tyndale commentary. Even though I do not agree with his Arminian theology, I appreciate his clarity of exegesis in this 400+ page commentary. I prefer Bruce more.
- John Stott (BST) (Mid-Level): This is my second favorite devotional commentary on Hebrews. MacArthur is still my favorite. I think Stott's Romans commentary is one of his best works.
- Richard Longenecker (NIGTC - 2016) (Technical): This volume was recently published, and I have not purchased or read this commentary. Based on my experience with Longenecker’s other commentaries, I believe it is likely that this commentary will complement Cranfield’s technical commentary very well.
- John Calvin (Classic): This is Calvin’s first Bible commentary. It is probably the best exegetical commentary on Romans written before 1900. I found Calvin more helpful than Martin Luther’s commentary.
I am always grateful to God that there have been men who have labored diligently, and they have shared their learnings in written form. These commentaries are not necessary to understand Romans, but they can help us along the journey.