Review: Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism Bulletin (David Bond)

Tom Holland, Contours of Pauline Theology (Scotland, Fearn, Ross-shire: Mentor Imprint, Christian Focus Publications, 2004)

Contours of Pauline Theology, the outcome of many years of doctoral research by its author (a lecturer at the Evangelical Theological College of Wales) is a significant new work encompassing a vast range of scholarly study.  It is a carefully researched, thought-provoking and helpful work.  Noting that, ‘For generations scholars have claimed that Paul was the creator of Christianity’, as also that ‘Paul Hellenised the Jewish message’ (p.11), Dr Holland demonstrates above all how Paul operated totally within Jewish parameters of thought, particularly in his theology of the Gospel as a New Exodus.

This is a book to be placed in the hands of serious academics, Jewish or Christian, who are interested in Pauline studies and the relationship between Christianity and Judaism.  But it is also a book for those of us who are involved in Jewish evangelism as we seek to show our Jewish friends that Paul’s Gospel is wholly Jewish.

Many books on the Jewishness of the New Testament turn primarily to Second Temple literature – the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and early Rabbinic literature – but Dr Holland highlights the incompleteness of this literature, which yields only a very incomplete and uncertain picture of the various Judaisms of New Testament times.  Whilst using this literature with caution, Dr Holland sees the Jewishness of the New Testament primarily in terms of its reliance on the paradigms of Jewish Scripture, not least the New Exodus.  So his emphasis is on Biblical Theology.  Let me add that one does not have to agree with every detail of his exposition in order to be convinced by his overall argument and stimulated by his book.

Whilst remaining true to Reformation convictions, Dr Holland breaks new ground in challenging a number of traditional presuppositions of Biblical interpretation, not least, those that are moulded more by Hellenised thinking than by Jewish, Old Testament thinking.  Pulling together many threads of Biblical exegesis, we are shown that Paul, in his understanding of the Gospel, ‘received his theological model from his Jewish upbringing, in which he was taught that Yahweh would bring about the promised New Exodus’ (p.43).  So this book answers those Liberal Christian and Jewish commentators who continue to insist that Paul Hellenised the otherwise Jewish message of Jesus to make it more acceptable to Gentile converts.  But it also gives us a firmer grasp of the Jewishness of the Gospel at its very heart.

One thing that Dr Holland does not do with Paul’s Epistles and theology is to make a merely cosmetic substitution of Hebraised terms for the usual English or Anglicized Greek terms.  Such substitutions have their place, but this book goes to the very heart of Paul’s theology in demonstrating that his whole message of salvation from sin and Satan through the death of Messiah is presented as a Passover-New Exodus theology.

Two key themes dominate the book.  One is that Scripture addresses the redeemed community, Old Covenant or New, before it addresses the individual – a welcome emphasis in our very individualistic age.  The other is that the original Passover-Exodus is fulfilled in the New Passover-Exodus, in which we as members of the New Covenant community are delivered from the kingdom of Satan and sin by the death of Jesus as our firstborn/redeemer.   Drawing attention to Paul’s extensive reliance on Isaiah and interaction with the Hebrew prophets, Dr Holland traces the New Exodus theme through the underlying structure of Romans and other passages in Paul, as also the rest of the New Testament.

Many of us have heard our Jewish friends claim that they do not need the message of Jesus because, as members of the Jewish nation, they are already in a covenant with God.  E P Sanders’ so-called New Perspective in Paul and Palestinian Judaism effectively plays into their hands by suggesting that the Torah-Law was simply added, as a joyous gift and privilege, to a people already in a full covenant relationship with God.  Dr Holland very ably refutes E P Sanders’ position, whilst also using his and other scholars’ insights to enlarge our view of justification.  Normally we think of justification as a merely forensic relationship in which the guilty person is set free from the penalty of the Law through faith in the death of the Messiah.  Dr Holland adds a further dimension by arguing that justification also means being brought into a dynamic, living covenant relationship with God.

Various other threads of thought contribute to the main themes of this book, and are valuable studies in their own right.  One is Dr Holland’s totally convincing discussion of the Greek term doulos in its Old testament background.  Whilst even the Jewish New Testament of David Stern translates this word in Graeco-Roman terms as bondslave, Dr Holland demonstrates that it must be interpreted against the Biblical, Jewish background of ‘Ebed Adonai.  The point is that the Servants of the Lord in the Tanakh, especially the Servant of Isaiah 53, were not slaves in the Hellenistic sense of doulos, but servants of high dignity and privilege in the service of God.

A new line of enquiry is opened up as to why Jesus is called prototokos-firstborn, especially in Col 1:15-20.  Again, this is placed in the context of the Passover, in which ‘the firstborn son . . . was designated by Yahweh to represent the family’ (p.238).  So Christ is the firstborn who represents and redeems us by His Passover offering of Himself, and not only us, but the whole created cosmos.  But if this view of the firstborn seems to weaken the doctrine of the full deity of Jesus, Dr Holland rightly highlights that, ‘only God Himself could be the firstborn/redeemer of the whole creation’ (p.269).

More could be said, but I trust that this is sufficient to commend the book to any who are involved with the Jewish people, whether at the level of Jewish-Christian understanding or of Jewish evangelism.

David Bond (CWI, London)

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