Contours of Pauline theology
Christian Focus (Mentor)
This is a book for scholars and those with a particular interest in Paul’s theology.
If Tom Holland’s conclusions are accepted, then it would mean a radical rethinking in the way we approach some of the well-known passages of Paul’s letters.
The author’s aim is commendable. He seeks to be rid of the old liberal idea that Paul was the creator of Christianity, that he introduced Greek influences, and transformed the original message into something quite different from what Jesus had proclaimed.
He is aware that more recent scholars have acknowledged that the New Testament church and documents have remained faithful to their Old Testament heritage. But Holland goes further. He is not afraid to question some of the conclusions of those associated with the so-called ‘new perspective’.
To fully appreciate the message of Paul, according to Holland, we need to examine his letters with two major considerations in mind. The first is the story of the exodus from Egypt and the second is the corporate nature of the Pauline material.
In other words, Paul’s letters are not just about God’s activity on behalf of individual believers but supremely ‘about what God has done or is doing for his covenant people, the church’ (p40). This new covenant people must be seen as emerging from the fulfilment of the OT prophecies concerning a new exodus inaugurated by the death of Christ, the Passover lamb.
Dr Holland puts his views to the test by exploring key themes in Paul’s theology. He argues that ‘the body of sin’ in Romans 6:6 is humanity outside of Christ, the prostitute of 1 Corinthians 6:13-20 is unredeemed humanity, baptism in Romans 6:1-4 refers to the foundation of the covenant community in Christ’s death, justification is about the creation of the covenant community and the imagery of the ‘first-born’ presents a high view of Christ as the Creator/Redeemer.
There are many helpful insights, although the detailed arguments are not always clearly expressed.
But one wonders whether the author does not take his approach too far — even to the point of unjustified allegory. For instance, to say that ‘reckoned righteous’ in Romans 4 is not about acquittal from guilt, but about acceptance into the covenant is to make nonsense of the language.
Moreover surely we lose something vital from the heart of the gospel if we say that Paul did not have the individual fully in mind in such passages in Romans 4?
Philip H. Eveson
London Theological Seminary