Friday, October 9, 2009

Book Review: Catholic Apologetic Study Bible Volume III: The Epistles of Romans and James by Robert Sungenis PhD

Catholic Apologist Dr. Robert Sungenis has published a landmark book which in my opinion should be read by anyone who is serious about Catholic Apologetics. It is the Catholic Apologetic Study Bible Volume III: The Epistles of Romans and James. Bob is a former Protestant Minister who converted to Catholicism in the early 1990s. He brought with him a great love of the Scriptures and in depth knowledge of the Greek language which he has used effectively in writings and debates with non-Catholics. Bob has a somewhat controversial history and he and I have agreed to disagree on several points, but he is a first class biblical exegete and his new book is likely the best commentary on Romans and James that is available for the Catholic Apologist.

St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans and St. James' Epistle were the two biblical books that were most controversial during the Protestant Rebellion of the16th Century. Protestants from that time up to the present have tried their level best to twist and distort the clear words of these Scriptures to their own perdition often making reference to esoteric interpretations of the Koine Greek language to justify their errors. Since Bob has published his commentary, this obfuscation will no longer be possible. He deals in depth with the rules of Greek grammar and vocabulary demonstrating that the Protestants have misrepresented the texts and that the Catholic teaching on the matters of justification, nature/grace, and soteriology are thoroughly biblical.

Bob make his own literal translations of the two epistles with extensive footnotes that refer back to standard scholarly commentaries both Catholic and Protestant as well as to other relevant biblical texts, the works of the Church Fathers, the Ecumenical Councils, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, other approved Catholic theological sources, and the Papal Magisterium of the Popes up to and including John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

The content of this commentary is intended for the study of Catholic apologetics and it is both informative eminently readable. After the line-by-line commentary here are several excurses that deal with apologetic topics such as "Expiation or Propitiation?," "What is Justification by Faith?," "What is Concpiscence?," "Living in the Spirit by the Principles of the Law," "The History of the Protestant Rebellion," "James' Teaching on Justification by Works," and "The Sacrament of Extreme Unction" to name just a few.

All of these excurses are superbly done and they alone are worth the price of the book. I would single my personal favorite: "Expiation or Propitiation?" This section has no parallel in any Catholic book with which I am familiar. Bob defends the idea of Christ's work being a true propitiation showing that this is entirely in line with defined Catholic teaching and approved scholarship. I have been looking for over 30 years for a solid Catholic treatment on this and I am overjoyed that my friend Bob Sungenis has produced what I consider to be the definitive exposition on this topic to date.

The long excursus on "The History of the Protestant Rebellion" is another absolute gem that once again has no parallel in any other Catholic work to do date. It is worth reading slowly and attentively.

Bob is not an advocate of the 'New Perspective on St. Paul' which has arisen over the last 30 years from within Protestant Scholarship. In myself favor the New Perspective, but it does remain controversial and many Protestant controversialists reject it vehemently because they know that it makes the traditional Protestant interpretation of St. Paul virtually impossible to justify. Even though I would have like to have Bob appropriate the New Perspective into his work, his apologetic method is probably even more effective because it utilizes the same perspectives and methods as traditional Protestant scholars and demonstrates their inherent contradictions and failures to rightly divide the Word. In essence, Bob hoists them with their own petard.

Bob does take some minority positions. For example he believes that the Epistle of St. James was written before Romans which is not the opinion held by the majority of biblical scholars. He also does not think that a mass conversion of the Jews will occur as a sign of the coming of the end times. He does believe that many Jews will convert in the end but as individuals joining the Church, not as a distinctly Jewish movement into Christianity. This places him at odds with the majority of Christian biblical scholars.

These unconventional opinions do not detract from the central theme of the work and such things are to be expect whenever a scholar takes pen in hand to take a fresh look at the Biblical text.

I cannot recommend this book more highly. I encourage anyone interested in Catholic Apologetics to get this book and study it carefully. I also want to congratulate Dr. Robert Sungenis on a great work of Catholic Apologetics.

The book is available for purchase on Bob's website:

As an additional note, Bob has recently updated his classic book Not By Faith Alone which is his in depth exposition on the doctrine of justification. In this Second Edition, he answers the objections of Protestant critics and has added a new section on the joint declaration of the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation on justification. It is avaialable as an e-book download on his website: