The following review of John Murray’s classic commentary on Romans has been written by Psyche Ives. Originally part of the New International Commentary series, Eerdmans now maintains it as a stand-alone commentary. It is available in Logos format here.
John Murray (1898–1975), who studied under some of Princeton’s greatest theologians, was a key contributor to Reformed and Presbyterian faith in the twentieth century. A former professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, Murray provides modern readers with one of the most loved and biblically sound commentaries on Romans. Considered the gold standard by many, this edition combines the typical two-volume commentary into one synchronized version that’s fully searchable, linked, and footnoted. This edition also contains 10 appendixes, each of which addresses a particular area of interest at a much deeper level: justification, faith, Karl Barth on Romans and the Sabbath, Leviticus 18:5, Isaiah 53:11, and more. Also included are very useful linked indexes for subjects, people, authors, and Scripture references.
Readers will welcome Murray’s thorough exposition of Reformed soteriology and more. Murray’s analysis of the biblical text is deep, thorough, and simply remarkable. When analyzing a passage, he goes several steps further than most other commentaries: many commentaries provide their view on a passage, but a rare few actually provide all the major interpretations of—or views on—a passage and then, based on proper exegesis, take the time to demonstrate why all but one are not proper. The result leaves the reader with a solid grasp of all the major interpretations and a proper understanding of why only one view is true.
Although Professor Murray typically taught seminary students and this volume addresses some deep and profound thoughts, Murray’s style attempts to bring these concepts down to a lower-to-intermediate level. Murray chooses his words with care and precision, and this extra care helps ensure that his arguments are clear and free from ambiguity. Whereas many commentaries will include the original Greek (and therefore require readers to have a working knowledge of Greek language, grammar, and syntax), Professor Murray finds a way to teach these same concepts without bringing in the Greek words. And yet advanced readers need not be concerned that Professor Murray might not address those contextual issues that can only be noticed in the original languages—in fact, Murray was most skilled in the discipline, and he does include these arguments, hashed out in English. This commentary reflects his expertise with Greek: Professor Murray takes the time to explain more alternative views of passage than most readers realize exist and, then, demonstrates which reading is proper.
The proper interpretation of Romans 11:25 has been debated for centuries, especially with the rise of Dispensational camps strongly advocating one view against the views held by Reformed theologians. Professor Murray explains that the passage deals with “the mystery of a partial hardening of Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles come in.” He clearly demonstrates that this “partial hardening” has to do with numbers. This partial hardening of Israel will come to an end when the “fullness” of the Gentiles comes in. What is the fullness of the Gentiles? From v12 and v15, Murray concludes that it has to do with a mass conversion rather than a remnant. “Be come in” is the terminology for entering the kingdom of God and life.
The Dispensational interpretation holds that the phrase “until the fullness of the Gentiles come in” should be interpreted as “all the elect Gentiles must be saved” or “the additional number of elect Gentiles must be saved,” and that the complete salvation of elect Gentiles would be the signal for the restoration of Israel to begin. This view holds that not one more Gentile will be saved after this time, but that all or most bloodline Jews would come to believe after this time.
Murray answers against this view, showing three ways this view defeats itself by contradicting the other verses within the context of Romans 11:12–26. Here’s how he expresses the third way this view contradicts itself:
“In verse 12 the fulness of Israel is said to bring much greater blessing to the Gentiles. As observed above, the interpretation most consonant with the context is the greater expansion of the blessing mentioned in the same verse as the riches of the world and of the Gentiles. But if ‘the fulness of the Gentiles’ means the full tale of the elect of Gentiles, then the fulness of Israel would terminate any further expansion among the Gentiles of the kind of blessing which verse 12 suggests.”
Murray does not shy away from addressing the concerns about the popular Reformed interpretation that takes “all Israel shall be saved” (v26) to mean the true elect Israel, not after the flesh. He agrees with popular Dispensational criticisms of this view for several reasons:
1) While it is true that all the elect Israel will be saved, this is such a necessary truth that it would have no relevance in this context, where Paul is primarily concerned about the salvation of bloodline Israel.
2) The salvation of all the elect remnant contradicts the context that demonstrates a partial will become a full.
For Professor Murray, the only proper understanding is that ethnic Israel will return to God, but he does not advocate every single individual will be saved.