Review: The Journal of the Church of England (Continuing) (Roger du Barry)

Contours of Pauline Theology, A Radical New Survey of the Influences
on Paul’s Biblical Writings. Tom Holland.
Mentor/Christian Focus, Rosshire 2004; pp £np ppc ISBN 1-85792-469-X

Tom Holland rejects the liberal view that Paul’s religion was a synthesis of Judaism and Hellenism, in favour of the traditional view that Paul’s influences were almost entirely those of the Old Testament interpreted in the light of the cross and resurrection. His arguments strongly support his claim that Paul can only be rightly understood as a faithful Jewish exegete and theologian of the Old Testament.

Dr Holland believes that the New Exodus theme as fulfilled by Jesus Christ is the proper paradigm for understanding Paul. He successfully shows that Paul must not be understood to be writing to individuals, but to communities, with the result that previously invisible corporate and covenantal themes come suddenly but clearly into view. They are the relationship between the Passover on the one hand, and community, soteriology, and Christology on the other. His insights are challenging and exegesis provoking.

As an aside, a weakness in my view is his attempt to show that many of the baptismal passages have nothing to do with the sacrament. Here he betrays a strongly non-sacramental presupposition, and in this point at least, he is out of step with orthodox readings of the texts.

Dr Holland is to be applauded for his critical engagement with the whole range of modern scholarship, particularly Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham, who is at the storm centre of contemporary Pauline studies. While generally supporting his covenantal reading of Paul, with qualifications, he disagrees that the Reformation was wrong to think that justification included the imputation of Christ’s personal righteousness to the church. He makes a strong defence of it by showing from Romans 5 that since Adam’s personal guilt is imputed to us, it is right and proper for Christ’s personal obedience also to be credited to our account. No doubt this particular defence of a central doctrine will be welcomed in many circles. This is a timely and scholarly contribution, which I warmly commend.

Roger du Barry
The Journal of The Church of England(Continuing)
Issue No: 31 April 2005

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