Question and Answer with Stephen E. Fowl on Ruth

Learn more about Ruth in the Brazos Theological Commentary of the Bible Series

ruth bible commentaryStephen E. Fowl (Ph.D., University of Sheffield) is the Chair of the Department of Theology at Loyola College in Maryland.

His research interests include the New Testament (esp. Pauline Studies), Hermeneutics, and the Theological Interpretation of Scripture.

Dr. Fowl’s recent publications include: Reading Scripture with the Church: Toward a Theological Hermeneutic with A.K.M. Adam, Kevin Vanhoozer, and Francis Watson (Baker Academic, 2006), and Theological Interpretation of Scripture (Cascade Books, 2009).

Besides his new volume on Ruth in the Brazos series, Dr. Fowl’s other commentaries are Ephesians in the New Testament commentary series (Westminster/John Knox, 2012) and Philippians in the Two Horizons commentary series (Eerdmans, 2005).

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Ruth?

Just to be clear, the volume combines Judges and Ruth. Laura Smit has prepared the Judges part. I have done Ruth. One of the aims of the Brazos series of theological commentaries is to offer commentary that is genuinely theological. There are only a couple of biblical scholars like myself who were invited to participate in this project. One of the requirements for us is that we work in our opposite testament. I think the point behind this is to try to free us from producing an overly technical work and to encourage us to be truly theological. So, since most of my writing has been on Paul, I had to pick an OT book. I was offered a number of books, but Ruth was the one that jumped out at me. For someone who is intrigued by the theological and practical issues between Jews and Gentiles in the earliest churches, Ruth is a great place to work.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

In all of my work I try to write in a way that maximizes the accessibility of what I want to say. So, I hope the book is accessible to a wide audience without short changing serious intellectual issues. Nevertheless, Pastors and seminary students and anyone else who engages the word of God in a regular and sustained way in service to the church comprise the audience I aim to reach.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Ruth?

In the modern period there really are not many commentaries that aim to front-load theological engagement with the text of Ruth. One of the questions that animates this work is the fact that Matthew includes Ruth in his genealogy of Jesus. In some respects, this makes Matthew the first commentator on Ruth. What did Matthew see in this story of a Moabite woman who willingly joins herself to the people of Israel and their God, that made it important for him to include her as one of the very few women he mentions in Jesus’ genealogy?

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

To me, the interchanges between the three central characters, Naomi, Boaz, and Ruth were wonderfully rich to work with. Overcoming Naomi’s objections, Ruth binds herself to this woman and seeks her benefit with a deep Christ-like selflessness. Ruth shows great courage and pluck in her conversations with Boaz.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

One of the things people note about Ruth is that God plays such a limited role in the story. God’s will is accomplished through people being willing to act in ways that seem good to them. One could get hung up trying to distinguish God’s will from human actions in this story. I take it that one of the theological points one might make, however, is that this story shows that in the lives of devoted followers of God, it becomes ever more difficult to disentangle God’s will from their will and it is less crucial to do so.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Ruth?

I particularly like Ellen Davis’ translation and Margaret Adams’ woodcuts for the book Who Are You My Daughter; Kirsten Nielsen’s commentary [Old Testament Library] is also clear and accessible and to the point.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I am wrapping up a book on idolatry the explores the habits and dispositions that either lead Christians into idolatry or help them resist idolatry.


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