Romans: Michael F. Bird
Michael F. Bird is a brilliant and witty New Testament scholar. We had the opportunity to interview him briefly on his recently released Romans Commentary published by Zondervan . We would recommend buying this amazing book. For more on Michael F. Bird, see here. We would also encourage you to read his blog.
AT: Mike, you have written a new commentary on the letter of Romans. Very exciting! How long was this brewing (yes like coffee) before you decided to write this volume?
Dr. Bird: I've been teaching courses on Paul and Romans for over ten years. But I have been working on Romans for the SGBC series, on and off, since 2009. It was in 2014 that I finally had a sabbatical where I could complete the commentary.
AT: Can you explain what is different about this new commentary compared to other Romans commentaries?
Dr. Bird: This is a commentary for Pastors. I think the exegesis is careful and rigorous, but a large part of the commentary is about "living the story." I have to confess that exegesis is relatively easy, it is the illustration, narrativation, and exhortation that is really hard. How does Rom 5:12-21 effect the way you eat your lucky charms in the morning or how you do worship or how you be a stay at home Christian mom. It is yard yakka. While there are some Romans application commentaries on the market, to be honest, I found them rather disappointing. For most of them application is just theology, stuff I should now believe. In contrast, I've tried to say, "Hey, given what Paul says here, this is what should happen when the rubber hits the road, this is how you live the text, and walk the story in the text." I like to think I've had a good job in showing pastors how to move from exegesis to practical application and illustration.
AT: Should we be expecting a mixture of the newer perspectives along with the older perspectives in this commentary?
Dr. Bird: Yes, I consider myself Reformed, and traditional on things like atonement and justification, but in my analysis Paul regards justification as forensic, eschatological, covenantal, and transformative. Justification is where God creates a new people, with a new status, in a new covenant, as a foretaste of the new age. So long as justification is rooted in the context of Paul arguing for the legitimacy of Gentiles as believers without having to become Jews, then there is certainly something right about the New Perspective. I think my chapters on Romans 3 and 4 show that you can have a both/and view on Reformed and New Perspectives.
AT: After writing this new volume on Romans, have you discovered any new key themes in Paul's theology? If so, would you mind explaining them to us?
Dr. Bird: I was struck that Paul's big concern is to show that it is possible to take pork-eating, idol-worshipping, bi-sexual Gentiles and to turn them into a people to praise and worship God. You can do that without proselytism to Judaism, without Torah; that is because Christ and the Spirit save and sanctify a people. Paul wants to bring Gentiles to the obedience of faith, rooted in the Messiah, and worshipping God, that is his priestly service. For me, Rom 15:7-13 really is the pinnacle of the letter, and this is what really drives him!
AT: This new series being done by Zondervan is meant to aid readers in their studies of the Bible. What do you hope this volume accomplishes for the modern reader as well as future ones?
Dr. Bird: It is a great series, we have a great editorial team for both the OT and NT volumes, and a stack of wonderful contributors who are gifted and insightful readers of biblical texts. Tremper Longman's Genesis commentary is out concurrently with my Romans volume. I think the series has a wonderful blend of exegesis and illustration/application. This is what I think pastors are really crying out for and will find useful for their sermon preparation. Yes, reading a Jewett or a Moo is important and illuminating for the exegesis of Romans, but I think the real challenge is bringing exegesis and living-the-story together and that is what the SGBC series does very, very well.
AT: Mike, I profess that I love your works and scholarship (love is a strong word, but it's true), what advice would you give us young theological Jedi who desire to pursue the academy for the glory of God?
Dr. Bird: Be disciplined, spiritually, keep your faith fresh, stay connected to your church, remain a servant; and also work hard at your languages, be economic with your time, redeem the days that you have; and don't neglect your family. What pursue great things for God!
AT: Mike, two questions: who is "the man" in Romans 7 and who is "Israel" in Romans 11?
Dr. Bird: I think on Romans 7 the wretched man is a pre-Christian Jew, or maybe a pre-conversion God-fearer, realizing that they’ll never match up to the Torah’s requirements. I think on Romans 11, Israel is ethnic Israel who will be saved in whole or in a major part at the Parousia of Jesus Christ.