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

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