J. D. Crowley has lived in Asian cultures all his life. After 12 years of pastoring in Hawaii, he went to Cambodia in 1994 to do linguistic and mission work among the indigenous minorities there. He is the author of The Tampuan/Khmer/English Dictionary and Khmer commentaries on Matthew and (most recently) Romans:
J. D. Crowley. Commentary on the Book of Romans for Cambodia Asia. ASEAN Bible Commentary. Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Fount of Wisdom, 2014.
“There is a long and honorable history of synopsizing and condensing longer, technical commentaries. JD Crowley has not only brought his considerable skills to this tradition, but has done so in two languages simultaneously, to the enormous benefit of the church in Cambodia and, it is hoped, other East Asian countries. Those called to teach the Bible who make use of Crowley’s careful work will long thank God for this gift.”
D. A. Carson
Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
President, The Gospel Coalition
“The commentary on Romans by JD Crowley brings together the two virtues that a good commentary should have: clear and accurate interpretation and relevant, hard-hitting application. Paul’s magisterial presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ is put into words and images designed to communicate with his particular target audience. Highly recommended!”
Douglas J. Moo
Blanchard Professor of New Testament, Wheaton College
Chair, Committee on Bible Translation
“JD Crowley’s commentary on Romans is wonderfully clear, exegetically faithful, and theologically profound. I commend it enthusiastically.”
Thomas R. Schreiner
James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Up until now we did not have a resource of this scholarly level in the Khmer language to help us in our study of Romans. Congratulations and gratitude to JD Crowley for his labor in producing this commentary on Romans just when the Cambodia church needs it. I hope that this book will provide help to church leaders, Bible school students, and to all believers in Jesus everywhere who have a desire to study Romans at a deeper level. May this book be the foundation for the Khmer Christians’ study of Romans—for this generation and for generations to come.”
Arun Sok Nhep
Program Consultant, United Bible Societies Asia-Pacific
Executive Director, Bible Society in Cambodia
I’ve already borrowed from previous drafts of J. D.’s commentary (e.g., “How to Disagree with Other Christians about Disputable Matters“), and I’ve learned so much from J. D. about the conscience. We’re planning to coauthor a book on the conscience, drawing deeply on his wisdom after decades of cross-cultural missions.
I asked him some questions about his commentary on Romans:
1. Why did you choose the book of Romans for a Khmer commentary for first-generation believers?
Romans is the fifth or sixth book we’ve produced for Cambodia. Our translation of Trevor McIlwain’s Firm Foundations into Khmer is still a perennial best-seller here, used in every province.
Our goal for our province is for all the pastors and church leaders we work with to be able to preach the gospel storyline from Genesis to Jesus. After we lay that foundation, we like to take our church leaders through Acts to show how Christ built his church just as he promised. We translated another McIlwain book for that.
But at some point we saw the need to write our own books designed for the Asian church, so we published The Kingdom of God: 66 Studies from the Book of Matthew in Khmer and English to help Cambodians believe Christ’s words and obey Christ’s commands. Matthew mixes narrative and teaching, so it’s a good book to help transition local pastors from narrative to epistle.
After teaching through some of the shorter letters, we decided it was time to tackle Romans. We wanted the church leaders to be dead sure on the gospel. Plus the frequency of OT citations in Romans fits well with the one-story approach that we started with. References to Abraham, David, the law, and Israel resonate with our pastors. By now I’ve taught through Romans three times, mainly to the same group of men, and now they’re teaching it themselves both to their churches and to the second generation leaders in their indigenous Bible school program.
2. We often hear that people in the majority world don’t tend to think linearly and thus require narrative instruction. What are the challenges of teaching such a complex book in Asia?
I’ve lived in Asian contexts all my life, and I’ve never completely bought into the idea that these differences are significant or even real. If real, they are certainly no barrier to understanding Romans, especially with the constant help of the Holy Spirit. The Khmer and tribal leaders whom I teach (and to whom the book is dedicated) are fully capable of following the logic of Paul’s thought.
What is essential is that they know very well the one narrative that is the backdrop for Romans: God’s story of redemption from creation to Christ. Ignorance of the metanarrative really is an obstacle to understanding Romans.
Of course, we also use extensive illustrations, analogies, and charts as you can see in my book. The tribal pastors themselves suggested some of the analogies, revealing that they were getting Paul’s flow of thought. A brilliant tribal church leader named Siu Hinh suggested my all-time favorite illustration on the tendency of the law to provoke sin in a sinful heart, showing our consequent need of a Savior:
A man owned a farm that had a beautiful lake on it. People in his area liked to spend time relaxing and picnicking there. But the lake was very deep, and occasionally someone drowned. The village council asked the owner to do something about this problem, so he put up a warning sign that said: “Swimming Prohibited.” One day a teenager came to the lake. He saw the sign but it only made him want to swim even more, so he jumped into the water. It was too deep, and he started to drown. He cried out to the sign to save him, but of course the sign did nothing. Then he remembered that the sign and the lake had an owner, so he started calling out the owner’s name. Just in time, the owner came and saved the teenager’s life. (p. 111)
3. The Khmer version of the commentary has a title that translates “Receive Good—Do Good.” What’s the significance of that title?
Shock value, for one. It arrests the attention of every Cambodian who sees it because it turns the most important religious proverb in Asia on its head. “Do good—receive good” (karma) is the very soul of Buddhism. The way Paul lays out Romans is the exact opposite of karma, with 11 chapters about God’s free gift of forgiveness in Christ (there are virtually no commands in that section), followed by 5 chapters that describe the believer’s response of gratitude and love (over 80 commands!), thus “Receive Good—Do Good.” The title is so provocative that I had to run it by a number of national church leaders, all of whom insisted I keep it.
4. There are plenty of good entry-level commentaries in English. Why not just translate one? Why reinvent the wheel?
In one sense, we haven’t reinvented the wheel. On nearly every page you’ll see names like Boice, Moo, Schreiner, Stott, Piper, and Augustine (and even Naselli once!). But another answer is that sometimes the wheel needs reinventing. Every good teacher thinks constantly about his audience, their needs, their assumptions, their level of understanding. Most commentaries written in the West, even simple ones, aren’t geared for the right level and don’t answer the right questions—not to mention the problem of illustrations that go “splat.”
Plus we’re thinking long-term. We and other missionaries are training Cambodian pastors to eventually author their own theological works. The first step is to show them how it’s done, then do it with them, and then guide them as they do it themselves. The Cambodian church has seen spectacular growth in the past 25 years, but no Christian movement or awakening can be sustained without a constant stream of theological literature, especially literature written for the culture. Because of name recognition and trust built up over 20 years, we have our foot in the door to help shape the theology of an entire nation.
5. Why did you publish an English edition as well?
English is becoming the main second language in SE Asia. Our hope is that churches in neighboring SE Asian nations will want to translate the Romans commentary into their languages. Some have already expressed interest. Our hope for a regional impact is apparent in the somewhat presumptuous series title: ASEAN Bible Commentary Series (ASEAN is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations). After all, this is only our first book in the series! But you have to start somewhere.
6. What other books are in the works?
We’re working on adapting Bruce Ware’s excellent Big Truths for Young Hearts into Khmer. Ware’s book is basically a systematic theology for young people, but the moment my family and I started going through it together, I knew it would make the perfect entry-level ST for Cambodian pastors and Christians, simple and profound.
I’m also in the early stages of a commentary on Ephesians and 1 and 2 Timothy entitled A Church in Asia. Besides being a commentary, it will be a case study of the church at Ephesus, tracing the birth and development of the church we know more about than any other in the Bible, except perhaps Jerusalem.
I hope that in a few years my colleague Jeremy Farmer, former OT prof at Northland International University, will produce an Old Testament Theology and a commentary on Genesis. So Romans is just a start.
7. Can we get the English edition here in the States? How about the Khmer edition?
The English edition is already available from Amazon in Kindle format. Since it’s an entry-level commentary, it doesn’t break any new ground, though I think my explanations of Romans 7 and Romans 14 might be helpful to some in your part of the world. So I do wonder about its usefulness in a Western context.
But on the other hand, I think it could be helpful in multicultural settings in the States. My gift is making complicated matters a bit less complicated. Wherever that’s needed, this book might help. I’m thinking of a youth leader who wants his teens to go deeper into the word or a parent using the book to help explain the gospel to his family. I’ve taught through Romans with my own family twice now.
Plus, I think the commentary could be useful in other majority world contexts such as Africa or South America, as long as the teacher tweaked it for his target culture. (I think publishing houses in the States should consider creating a special imprint for majority world books like mine. The imprint might not be a money-maker, but it would be a kingdom builder.)
The Khmer edition of the commentary is already available in Cambodia, but it’s not easy or cheap to ship to the States. The Cambodian publisher, Fount of Wisdom Publishing House, will sometime this year release the 540-page Khmer edition as a print-on-demand book for the many Khmer churches in the States and Australia, and we hope to do the same for the English print edition. For now, you have to come to Phnom Penh to buy the printed version. And when you do, bring your family and visit Kim and me up in the northeast corner. That’s an invitation.
- J. D. and Kim Crowley, “This Is How We Pray for Our Children” (This is gold. Jenni and pray these requests systematically for our children spread out over all of the days in each month.)
- Gospel Meditations for Missions (J. D. Crowley contributes to that booklet.)