Review: Evangelical Review of Theology (Prof. I. Howard Marshall)

EQ 77.3 (2005), 270-272

Contours of Pauline Theology: A Radical New Survey of the Influences on Paul’s Biblical Writings

by Tom Holland

Fearn: Christian Focus Publications
[Mentor], 2004. 382 pp. hb. £14.99

By any account this is an extraordinary book! The scholarly endorsements of it describe it as ‘challenging, unsettling and infuriating’ and ‘radically new’. Yet, to begin at the end, there is a bibliography that is riddled with misprints, although the rest of the book is in better shape.

There are sweeping statements (‘most New Testament scholars’) sometimes offered with little or no supporting evidence, and there is a mixture of proposals that range from the dodgy to the brilliant. The way in which the argument is developed is not always clear, there is a certain amount of repetitiousness (cf. the citation from Nanos on 15 and 48f.), and there could be better signposting. The intimation that the author will ‘examine’ the view that the Gospels are not reliable heralds a single paragraph that does not really tackle the issue but simply asserts the opposite. But if the reader can set aside these shortcomings that better editing could have obviated, there is a remarkable thesis being presented here that demands scholarly attention.

The central themes are not obvious at the outset. Instead of confining themselves to the brief outline on p. 12 readers will find it helpful to read the conclusion (287-91) first. Essentially Holland is arguing for the dependence of Pauline theology on the Old Testament, for its agreement with Jesus in the Gospels (he says that he will argue that Paul ‘never departed from the teaching of Jesus’, but in fact he leaves this element out), for the essentially corporate nature of his teaching, and for the Passover and associated themes as exercising a far greater influence on his soteriology and christology than has previously been recognised.

The opening section is a polemic against the theory of a Hellenised Paul (not so widely held as Holland appears to think) and a stress on the presence of New Exodus theology in Jewish sources.

There is a rejection of the understanding of Jesus as a ‘new Moses’ in Matthew, which ignores the point accepted else- where that christology can be conveyed other than by means of titles. Paul himself structures his theology on the New Exodus theology found especially in Isaiah. In passing Holland claims that the ‘strong’ Christians in Corinth were Jewish believers (and Gentiles influenced by them) who were not worried about food sacrificed to idols because they knew that the latter did not exist. He insists that Paul’s letters deal primarily with communities and only secondarily with individuals. Then he claims that the pseudepigrapha should not be used to any great extent to shed light on Pauline theology, apparently so that he can later set aside the material in 4 Maccabees as offering clues to Paul’s understanding of atonement. A final preliminary consideration argues for a fundamental error on the part of scholars in understanding the Isaianic servant in the light of slavery rather than against a Hebraic background which refers to willing service by a subordinate.

He argues that NT authors avoided seeing Jesus as the servant of ls. 53 because they saw this role as one shared by the whole people of God and because they had a better OT model for Jesus.

At last we reach the main part of the book. It commences with the question of corporate solidarities and argues that, just as believers are corporately the body of Christ, so the mass of unredeemed humanity constitute ‘the body in bondage to sin’, a phrase that has wrongly been understood individualistically by R. H. Gundry and D. J. Moo; similarly the ‘old man’ is corporate. Rom. 7 is then understood corporately of Israel rather than of the individual sinner, and Rom. 7:1-6 are seen against the background of Yahweh redeeming Israel out of Egypt to be his bride. ‘The Jews died to the reign of Pharaoh through their deliverance during the night of the Passover’.

To clarify this somewhat, Holland explores the nature of marriage and brings forward the practice of bride purchase by the groom (cf. Eph. 5:22-27) and finds it in 1 Cor. 6:13-20, where he rejects a background of manumission of slaves and also argues for a corporate understanding of ‘body’ in v. 18. Certainly the idea of Christ’s body is present in v. 15; over against it Paul places the harlot’s body as corporate (cf. Rev. 17 for the collective image of Babylon the harlot).

In line with this collective emphasis Holland must also interpret Rom. 6 in the same way, so that the baptism with Christ is a corporate baptism, like that of Israel into Moses, and it took place historically before the work of regeneration in individuals. This is the same baptism as in 1 Cor. 12:13 where the effect of the baptism is ‘to form one body’, and in Gal. 3:26-29, Eph. 4:6 and Eph. 5:27, and the baptism took place at the crucifixion of Christ. It follows that believers were actually raised with Christ when he came out of his grave long before they themselves were baptised with water (cf. C. E. B. Cranfield’s four senses of dying and rising with Christ).

In the next part of the book the relation between Passover and soteriology is investigated. Here Holland rejects the interpretation of Rom. 3:21-26 in the light of Maccabean martyr theology (arguing that the traditions are of uncertain date – although he will argue later exactly the opposite in the case of Aqedah theology!). He claims that redemption is associated only with the Passover and draws attention (following J. D. G. Dunn) to the sacrifices offered by the prince in Ezk. 45:25 during the Passover; here is the basis for seeing an atoning and propitiatory significance in the Passover sacrifice (cf. the use of exi- laskomai in the LXX here), and Holland claims that Lk. 22:19-20 indicates the same understanding on the part of Jesus. The ‘passing over’ of sins previously committed is thought to be an echo of the passing over of the angel of death, and it is claimed that the passover sacrifice was the only one that was ‘publicly displayed’. At the Passover the first-born of the Jewish people were saved from death by the sacrifice that substituted for them. Return from exile typology is also said to be present. Following M. D. Hooker the Passover is also seen as the background to the ransom payment in Mk. 10:45.

Justification is then understood as a corporate imputation of the righteousness of Christ through which people are brought into the covenant, since righteousness must be understood as a relational concept. Individual justification is not the focus in Rom. 4.

Finally, the implications for Christology are worked out. Holland argues for an essentially functional understanding of Christ as the first-born who had the duties of the redeemer for his family (a term not used for Christ because firstborn is used instead as the more definitive expression [267]). He is the firstborn of humanity and the whole creation in order to redeem it, but in fact only a divine being, not a human being, could redeem them. He thus has the role of the first-born (or rather the lamb as the substitute for the first-born) at the Passover. God provides him as vicarious atonement like the lambs that substituted for the Israelite firstborn. The propitiatory element becomes clear in Ezk. 45, where the Passover and the Day of Atonement are brought into close association with each other, the sacrifices associated with Atonement being offered at Passover. In this connection the Aqedah, as the sacrifice of Abraham’s first-born becomes significant. Holland notes how in the birth story Jesus, as the first-born of God (as well as of Mary), is not redeemed but presented to the Lord. Finally, the christological passage in Col. 1 is understood in a paschal setting, and the wisdom background, commonly adopted by scholars, is rejected.

The thesis clearly has numerous parts to it, and some of them are more strongly argued and firmly rooted than others (some of which are a bit fanciful). Some of the polemic against other views is not justified; with the models used to explain the person and work of Christ in the New Testament it is possible to find several being used alongside one another rather to defend the value of one by denying the others. As noted above, there are times when the author may seem to adopt some arguments when they favour his position and to reject similar ones when they support other views. He has certainly produced a strong argument for a much greater influence of Passover typology than has generally been thought to be the case, and his arguments for the atoning sacrificial understanding of the original Passover sacrifice powerfully support the case argued by J. Jeremias and L. Morris. The interpretation of some of the Pauline material as referring primarily to corporate groups rather than to individuals is, however, somewhat forced in places and less persuasive; it is not in fact essential to his Christological and soteriological conclusions.

Dr Holland has produced a stimulating volume which deserves the most careful scrutiny from New Testament students. It is a remarkably fresh and creative study which makes one re-think familiar passages in new ways.

I. Howard Marshall
University of Aberdeen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *