Monthly Archives: July 2009

Review (Romans): Guildford Community Church (Peter Wilkinson)

Romans: The Divine Marriage  – Dr Tom Holland

This commentary follows Dr Holland’s striking development of the ‘new exodus’ motif as a key background concept to understanding Paul in ‘Contours of Pauline Theology’. The first book provided some astonishing new ways of reading Paul, and brought out the significance of the ‘new exodus’ as a paradigm for understanding the New Testament. The Romans commentary pursues the new exodus motif in further detail.

The new exodus exploration opens up Romans in some fresh ways, not least the revisiting of Romans 3:20ff, where the key term hilasterion is provided with new exodus significance, drawing especially on Ezekiel’s use of the term in the eschatological temple’s celebration of Passover in Ezekiel 45. Dr Holland also introduces us to the influence of Ezekiel’s new exodus themes more widely in Paul.

The new exodus line of thinking leads to a rigorously corporate interpretation of passages in Romans which have conventionally been interpreted as individualistic. So the corporate emphasis of Romans 5 (full of echoes of return from exile, a key new exodus theme), continues into Romans 6-8, with surprising results. A major challenge to conventional interpretation is the locating of the word flesh within a covenantal, and therefore corporate framework. Dr Holland is careful to explore the various nuances of the meaning of the word within the biblical corpus, but the result is a much more satisfying connection of the word with its OT roots, and a shift from the usual ontological understanding with its myriad complexities and psychological introspectiveness.

The commentary develops a crucial distinction in the way justification is used in Romans 4, between its applications to Abraham and David. Through this distinction, Dr Holland is able to build on the New Perspective understanding of the term as developed by Tom Wright (in relation to Abraham), and the way the Reformers used the word (in relation to David). Dr Holland develops an argument for reinforcing the view that justification is not merely a declaration of righteousness, as asserted by the New Perspective, but includes within its semantic domain the Reformation ideas of forensic justification and being brought into a covenant relationship with God. He then incorporates the use of justification language in Israel’s ‘new exodus’ restoration from exile, relating this to the key ‘justification’ section of Romans, chapter 5.

The excursuses on righteousness, the flesh and justification are treasure troves in themselves, and the commentary is bristling with insights. The book dialogues with contemporary theological discussion, and takes on board the best results of these, whilst staunchly defending the faith of the Reformers, and presenting strong arguments for their position. Along the way, Dr Holland points out what he takes to be some key shortcomings of New Perspective positions.

Above all, the commentary brings Romans alive in fresh ways, and as with ‘Contours’, drives us back to the biblical text armed with fresh insights and equipped with fresh tools for mining the gold from this letter, which proves its worth for the 21st century as for all preceding ages. Dr Holland illustrates well the maxim of the pilgrim fathers in relation to Romans: ‘The Lord has more truth yet to break forth out of his holy Word.’

Peter Wilkinson
Guildford Community Church

Review (Romans): Colin Hamer

Tom Holland in his Romans commentary interacts with the controversial teaching of the New Perspective theologians – and much more besides.

But rather than retreat into Reformed formulations, he engages with the latest views, re-evaluates traditional positions, and breathes new life into Reformed teachings without repudiating them. For example (writing as a self-styled biblical, rather than systematic, theologian) he sees that the “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” of Genesis 15:6 has been pressed too readily into service by the Reformers as a text that teaches imputed righteousness – and yet Holland does not reject that doctrine.

Furthermore he brings clarity to the complex area of covenantal nomism. He agrees with the New Perspective theologians that Paul, along with his compatriots, rejoiced in the law – indeed Paul considered himself blameless (Philippians 3:6); but this was only before his conversion, not afterwards, when he came to see that the law in fact condemned all men and women before God (Romans 4:15).

In addition Holland brings insights of his own – he sees that in many passages where Paul speaks of the “body” he means a body of people. He gives detailed linguistic arguments for this perspective, and shows that the “body of sin” is fallen mankind who entered into a covenant with Sin (Satan) via their federal head Adam. This body is the counterpart to the “body of Christ”  – the church. Although this perspective is not unique to Holland he applies it more consistently in his exegesis than others. At first, if you are not familiar with this concept, it can seem strange – but if you stay with it there is a reward as light is cast on some verses that have always been considered to be ‘difficult’.

For me the climax of his commentary is his exposition of chapters 6 & 7. Holland sees that Paul is telling us that Christ died in the place of the bride of Satan (the body of Sin) to break the legitimate authority the law gives a husband. This explains Paul’s comments at the centre of these two chapters where he reminds us that the death of a spouse ends a marriage. We can now see it is the death of Christ that releases the elect from her former ‘husband’ for her to become Christ’s bride and his body. This, to my mind, is a convincing exegesis – and reveals the cosmic implications of Christ’s death and the “Divine Marriage” in a new and exciting way.

So, if you want a quiet read to reassure yourself that there is nothing new to learn other than what the great Reformers taught – this commentary is not for you.

But, if you want a stimulating, thought provoking, mind stretching, Christ-exalting journey through Romans that interacts with recent scholarship and yet respects the Reformers’ teaching – I think you will be hard pushed to find a commentary to best this one.

Colin Hamer

Review: (Peter Wilkinson)

This study of the pervasive influence of the Passover on Pauline thinking and the corporate significance of the NT texts was first published in 2004. Dr Tom Holland of the Evangelical Theological College of Wales has not been backward in wanting to draw attention to his work. There is a website devoted to it, with an online version of the book (appallingly badly proof-read, and presenting the work in an earlier form from its modified published version), and a collection of many reviews of the book. The book itself is also available, hardback, at an astonishingly inexpensive price for a work of academic scholarship, and I obtained a copy, new, through Amazon for £10.47.

Contours provides a paradigm for reading Paul in particular, and the NT texts generally, based on the Egyptian Passover and the New Exodus vision of the 8th century prophets. Tom Holland has done his groundwork, and provides detailed and panoramic reference to studies which have preceded his, whilst pointing out that none of these take the implications and significance of their readings as far as he himself is prepared to propose.

In the process, Holland throws out some major challenges to contemporary scholarship, especially the various New Perspective schools or writers. Amongst these, he challenges the vogue for using inter-testamental writings as a way of interpreting the New Testament, based on a model which has Second Temple Judaism as its background. Holland argues that the complexity of the writings, and the difficulty in establishing contexts and schools of thought which provide consistent readings of the writings, make definitive observations and statements about their underpinning of New Testament thought very problematic. He argues for a more thorough-going use by the NT writers and early church of the OT as the background which shaped their thinking and theology, and this in a unique way without parallel in the inter-testamental literature.

However, Holland lines up with NP scholarship in agreeing that Paul’s theology is essentially Semitic, rooted in the Old Testament, and not Hellenistic. His conclusions, based on extensive study, diverge from NP scholarship, however – albeit not totally, but at key points.

In particular, Holland disagrees with Dunn and Wright that Paul’s opposition to the early church arose from his belonging to the Jewish Zealot faction, directed against Hellenists, who supposedly were in the vanguard of encouraging uncircumsised gentiles into the covenant people of God. Holland argues that Paul’s chief contention with the early church was its preaching of a crucified messiah.

Holland also disagrees with Wright’s view that justification was essentially a declaration identifying who belonged to the covenant people of God. By pursuing the New Exodus provenance of the word, Holland argues that while it does have primarily a covenant rather than forensic significance, the word itself implies the creation of the new covenant, rather than its identification. Holland argues that the Reformers were not wrong in seeing justification as the means of entry to the covenant, but that they failed to emphasise the historical basis of the covenant as being deeply shaped by the Passover paradigm.

Dr Holland pursues in detail a widespread, profound and pervasive use of language in Paul’s writings which firmly anchors his redemptive theology in the narrative historical soteriology of Israel. A key to unlocking this observation is the recognition that the Old Testament, especially the eschatological vision of Ezekiel, and extra-biblical writings, saw an atonement as well as a redemptive significance in the Passover, and that in Ezekiel the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement merged with the observation of the Passover in the eschatological temple. Hence in Holland’s detailed exploration of Romans 3, the hitherto problematic hilasterion (trans. propitiation, or sin offering, whilst actually referring to the mercy seat which covered the ark of the covenant in the temple), finds a natural home and explanation.

On the issue of hilasterion, Holland also refutes contemporary scholarship’s resort to 4 Maccabees 17:22, where it is used to imply a martyrdom theology, this being taken up and subsequently applied to Christ’s own death. Holland points out the limitations of this as a way of interpreting the death of Christ, and provides a way of interpreting the word in its Romans context which resolves the difficulties which it had previously posed.

Thus far has been some observation on details of Dr Holland’s thesis. But not content with detail, which he provides in abundance, his work throws up challenges to various threads of the NP school which require an answer. He also provides a major paradigm for understanding the theology of Paul, and the gospels. The paradigm is significant, because it builds on the work of NP thinkers, and accepts a basic premise, that the narrative history of the people of God is central to understanding the significance of Christ and his death on the cross, and that much that has subsequently been reshaped into ontological categories for interpreting scripture can now be restored to a more convincing home, providing greater integrity, and actually a simpler unifying way of understanding things. This, Holland asserts, was the theology which Paul inherited from his Judaistic background, but which had already been formed by the early church. Paul introduced nothing new.

An example of how this approach works out can be seen in Holland’s exposition of the ‘hymn’ in Colossians 1:15-20. The current consensus sees a Wisdom provenance for the language of the hymn – connecting Proverbs 8 with Genesis 1 in particular. Dr Holland takes the key introductory word prototokos – firstborn, and demonstrates its relationship with the Passover, and why this word, rather than its associate in OT writings, Redeemer, was extensively used in the NT. The prototokos performed the function of Redeemer in OT thought, whilst also connoting substitutionary sacrifice and atonement. (‘Redeemer’ did not imply the latter, and ‘redemption’ was not the sole prerogative of the firstborn – hence, Holland argues, its non-use in describing Jesus in the NT). The hymn ends with a further cultic reference in the blood of Jesus. Holland offers the intervening links to locate it entirely to a New Exodus context.

The other major theme of the book is the exploration of the corporate dimension of Paul’s thinking. Again, there is nothing new in the attempt to move from a highly individualised reading of the letters to the more authentic corporate setting in which they would originally have been read. But Holland takes this much further than many, bearing in mind the corporate significance of the Passover and New Exodus settings which he is using to interpret Paul. So he takes words and phrases such as ‘body of sin’, or ‘the old man’, and ‘the new man’ to be consistently corporate. Going further, he suggests that references to baptism in Romans 6 are not technically related to the meaning of an individual’s water baptism, but have a consistent relationship to the people of God as a whole, based on the Passover paradigm of baptism into Moses, and the corporate passage through the Red Sea. This makes sense, in Holland’s view, of the otherwise uncertain meaning of baptism in, for instance, 1 Corinthians 12:13 (with its distinct Passover references).

Of particular interest, in relation to Dr Holland’s pursuit of the corporate significance of Paul’s thinking within the New Exodus framework, is the light he sheds on the otherwise puzzling 1 Corinthians 6:15ff “Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never” etc. Holland argues, using historical research which suggests that Aphrodite worship did not entail temple prostitution in the Roman period at Corinth, that the prostitute or harlot here is not an individual example, but a demonic corporate entity – akin to the harlot of Revelation. The believer may be free to eat meat which has been sacrificed in pagan temple ceremonies, but is not free to engage in the feasts which accompany the ceremonies themselves – as the letter goes on to elucidate, making reference, of course, to the first Exodus.

Dr Holland is not the first to explore the New Exodus as a way of understanding Paul or the NT generally, and he enumerates many others who have done some sort of work on the subject. He is probably the first to pursue the New Exodus to an extent in which it is shown to shape the thinking of Paul on a broad scale, and to suggest that this is what underpinned the theology of the NT writers, in relating the messiah Jesus to the OT narrative. In so doing, he throws up considerable challenges to contemporary biblical studies, in relation to Paul in particular, although, as already suggested, not exclusively to Paul. Dr Holland’s style is sometimes rather whimsical, occasionally overdoing assertions of what he has proved, rather than letting the arguments speak for themselves. I occasionally found it helpful to read the words to myself with a Welsh accent. Somehow the Celtic voice seemed to help interpret the script, in the strange interior world of my head.

As the book throws up some challenges to the narrative historical reading of the NT provided by The Coming of the Son of Man, I felt it would be particularly interesting to interact with it on opensourcetheology.

This is one of the most stimulating works of academic scholarship I have read. I wonder how well it will transfer into the realm of popular thinking and theology in the church at large – in ways that the NP paradigm(s) seem not to have been able to do.

Review: University of Stellenbosch (Prof HJB Combrink)

Kindly translated by Koos Truter of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, MI 49525

Holland, Tom 2004. Contours of Pauline theology: A radical new survey of the influences on Paul’s biblical writings.
Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications. Pages: 382. Price: Not mentioned.

The author teaches New Testament and Hermeneutics at the Evangelical Theological College of Wales. The subtitle of the book creates no false expectations with the reader, for it certainly thinks, in a radical way, newly and creatively about the influences on Paul’s theology. The refreshing aspect however is that the author has done so on the basis of a well grounded knowledge of the Old Testament.

He takes as point of departure the conviction that the letters of Paul must be understood, not as Hellenistic writings, but against the background of the Old Testament and the Jewish context of the early church.  According to him, this also implies that the context of quotations from the Old Testament in Paul must be given much stronger consideration than what often happens. One can question whether he gave adequate recognition to the influence of the Greek-Roman context of Paul’s readers; but this does not detract from the importance of his emphasis on the Jewish and Old-Testament roots of Paul.

Holland is convinced that there are two perspectives which are all too often absent in the understanding of the New Testament (and Paul): the role of the feast of Passover as well as a more corporate reading of the text. He furthermore questions a number of presuppositions, such that Paul was a Zealot prior to his conversion, as well as the key role that are often given to inter-testamental literature. Although he agrees with Wright that a Jewish symbolic worldview can be reconstructed, he underlines the diverse nature of the Judaism of that time, as well as that which we still do not know of that world.

He is convinced that the feast of Passover, as feast of the exodus and redemption, played a much more important role in the New Testament that what is (usually) acknowledged.  The redemption of Passover was a corporate matter for the nation as a whole.  Holland therefore maintains that the manner in which the New Testament speaks about redemption also is more corporate.  This leads to a discussion of the “body of sin” (Old Afrikaans Translation) in Romans 6:6 where he agrees amongst others with the corporate understanding of Ridderbos.  This implies that the “body of sin” is seen as the corporate counter part of the “body of Christ”. He therefore also understands 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 in a corporate sense, as opposed to the traditional individual reading thereof.  He also sees the connection between 1 Corinthians 6:20 and Passover, where the Godly wedding between Yahweh and Israel took place. He furthermore also brings 1 Corinthians 6:16 and Ephesians 5: 30 in relationship with each other and also understand this corporately.

It is fascinating to see how he time and again connects the Passover with different key Pauline concepts.  So he goes in on the relationship between Passover, the old and new covenants and the image of marriage as image thereof.  Although he does not deny the role of the Day of Atonement, in the understanding of atonement and redemption, he does also in remarkable manner connect these concepts with the Old Testament role of the feast of Passover. Even the role of the firstborn as a redemptive figure in the context of Passover is being brought out.

This is a fascinating work that definitely requires thorough study and it will certainly lead to serious debate regarding many aspects of Paul’s theology. The author however time and again pre-empts us herein by engaging other important points in discussion.  This discussion will definitely (have to) be continued.

Prof HJB Combrink
University of Stellenbosch

Original Review
Holland, Tom 2004. Contours of Pauline theology: A radical new survey of the influences on Paul’s biblical writings.
Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications. Bladsye: 382. Prys: nie vermeld nie.

Die skrywer doseer Nuwe Testament en Hermeneutiek aan die Evangeliese Teologiese Kollege van Wallis. Die boek se subtitel skep geen vals verwagtings by die leser nie, want hier word beslis op ’n radikale wyse nuut en kreatief gedink oor die invloede op die teologie van Paulus. Die verfrissende is egter dat die skrywer dit juis doen op basis van ’n grondige kennis van die Ou Testament.

Hy neem as vertrekpunt die oortuiging dat die briewe van Paulus nie as Hellenistiese geskrifte verstaan moet word nie, maar teen die Ou-Testamentiese agtergrond en die Joodse konteks van die vroee kerk. Dit impliseer volgens hom ook dat die konteks van aanhalings uit die Ou Testament in Paulus veel sterker verreken moet word as wat dikwels gebeur. ’n Mens kan wel vra of hy genoeg erkenning verleen aan die invloed van die Grieks-Romeinse konteks van Paulus se lesers, maar dit neem nie weg dat sy klem op die Joodse en Ou-Testamentiese wortels van Paulus belangrik is nie.
Holland is daarvan oortuig dat daar twee perspektiewe is wat heeltemal te weinig in die verstaan van die Nuwe Testament (en Paulus) aanwesig is: die rol van die paasfees, asook ’n meer korporatiewe lees van die teks. Hy bevraagteken verder ’n hele aantal uitgangspunte, soos dat Paulus voor sy bekering ’n Seloot was, en die sleutelrol wat dikwels aan die intertestamentere literatuur toegeken word. Hoewel hy met Wright saamstem dat daar wel ’n simboliese wereldbeskouing vir Jode gerekonstrueer kan word, onderstreep hy die diverse aard van die Judaisme van daardie tyd en dit wat ons steeds nie van daardie wereld weet nie.

Hy is oortuig dat die paasfees as fees van die eksodus en verlossing ’n veel belangriker rol in die Nuwe Testament speel as wat erken word. Die verlossing van paasfees was ’n korporatiewe saak van die volk as geheel. Holland meen daarom dat die manier waarop die Nuwe Testament oor verlossing praat ook meer korporatief is.
Dit lei tot ’n bespreking van die “liggaam van die sonde” (OAV) in Romeine 6:6 waar hy by onder andere Ridderbos se korporatiewe verstaan aansluit.

Dit impliseer dat die “liggaam van sonde” as korporatiewe teenhanger van die “liggaam van Christus”, die kerk, gesien word. Hy verstaan dan ook 1 Korintiers 6:15-20 op korporatiewe wyse, anders as die tradisionele individuele lees daarvan. Hy sien ook ’n band tussen 1 Korintiers 6:20 en die paasfees, waar die Goddelike huwelik tussen Jahwe en Israel plaasgevind het. Verder bring hy ook 1 Korintiers 6:16 en Efesiers 5:30 in verband met mekaar en verstaan dit ook korporatief.

Dit is fassinerend om te sien hoe hy telkens verbande le tussen die paasfees en verskillende sleutelbegrippe van Paulus. So gaan hy in op die verband tussen die paasfees, die ou en nuwe verbond en die beeld van die huwelik as afbeelding daarvan. Hoewel hy in die verstaan van versoening en verlossing nie die rol van die groot versoendag ontken nie, bring hy ook op ’n merkwaardige wyse hierdie begrippe in verband met die Ou-Testamentiese rol van die paasfees. Selfs die rol van die eersgeborene as ’n verlossingsfiguur in die konteks van paasfees word aan die orde gestel.

Dit is ’n fassinerende werk wat beslis deeglike studie verdien en sekerlik tot ernstige debat oor heelwat aspekte van die teologie van Paulus aanleiding sal gee. Die skrywer gaan ons egter daarin voor deur telkens met belangrike ander standpunte in gesprek te tree. Hierdie gesprek sal beslis voortgesit (moet) word.

Prof HJB Combrink
Universiteit van Stellenbosch