An introduction to Bo Giertz's, Romans: A Devotional Commentary

Commentaries are a funny thing. I remember a conversation I had with Dr. Kleinig once after he released his commentary on Leviticus, a biblical book worthy of a commentary if there ever was one, and Kleinig’s is superior. I told Dr. Kleinig, “I normally don’t enjoy commentaries. They seem to fall in one of two ditches. They either tell me nothing that isn’t painfully obvious from the text itself, or they spend all their time trying to explain why the text doesn’t mean what the text actually says.” He responded, “Well yes, and then they spend a lot of time plagiarizing each other, too.” There are obvious exceptions to these rules, but by and large I find few commentaries to be actually helpful.

Then again it could be that what I find painfully obvious after years of theological study is not all that obvious to others. But also, there are few commentaries out there that will be able to help a person who hasn’t had years of theological study understand the text. Most commentaries I have on my shelf were written for pastors with seminary educations so full of theological shop talk they are no longer able to communicate with anyone who hasn’t had the same education. A commentary meant to explain the Greek text, remains Greek to the layman, and I dare say doesn’t always help the pastor bridge that gap in his sermons either.

That is perhaps what I find so refreshingly peculiar concerning the New Testament Commentaries that Bo Giertz wrote, and which I now have the joy of translating. They are written for lay people. He eschews academic one-upmanship. They are rather devoid of polemical theological controversy. They are written simply in everyday language. They explain the text where there could be confusion as to what is meant by bringing in context from scripture itself, and Giertz’s own extensive knowledge of the language and culture.

However, they also edify. They are devotional. They build up and encourage the faith of the reader. It’s a funny thing in that. Giertz writing for the layman writes a commentary that is of immense value and perhaps of far more value for the pastor and his preaching than any other commentary he might have on his shelf.

I say that by keeping in mind the late and great American Lutheran theologian Johann Michael Reu, who in his seminal work “Homiletics” recommends that pastors who want to improve their preaching constantly read sermonic material. It was in part that advice which led me on a translating rampage encompassing collected sermons of Bo Giertz, which is now available from 1517 as “Romans: A Devotional Commentary”, and these commentaries by Bo Giertz which read as little sermons for each text.

This commentary on Romans is a teaser for the rest of the commentaries that should be appearing in over the next couple years. Mostly I have been translating the various commentaries in relation to different Bible Studies, and the texts that I have had to preach on for Sunday or other occasions for the past few years. I have found that they have always allowed me to bring out Christ for you from the text, to explain the circumstances of the text in a lively way with clear law and Gospel that connects to those who hear.

Bo Giertz was always known as a great preacher in Sweden. Here in this Romans commentary you learn why that is. He has a love for the text that is only surpassed by the love he has for the people he is preaching to, the people for whom Christ died.