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Review: opensourcetheology.net (Peter Wilkinson)

This study of the pervasive influence of the Passover on Pauline thinking and the corporate significance of the NT texts was first published in 2004. Dr Tom Holland of the Evangelical Theological College of Wales has not been backward in wanting to draw attention to his work. There is a website devoted to it, with an online version of the book (appallingly badly proof-read, and presenting the work in an earlier form from its modified published version), and a collection of many reviews of the book. The book itself is also available, hardback, at an astonishingly inexpensive price for a work of academic scholarship, and I obtained a copy, new, through Amazon for £10.47.

Contours provides a paradigm for reading Paul in particular, and the NT texts generally, based on the Egyptian Passover and the New Exodus vision of the 8th century prophets. Tom Holland has done his groundwork, and provides detailed and panoramic reference to studies which have preceded his, whilst pointing out that none of these take the implications and significance of their readings as far as he himself is prepared to propose.

In the process, Holland throws out some major challenges to contemporary scholarship, especially the various New Perspective schools or writers. Amongst these, he challenges the vogue for using inter-testamental writings as a way of interpreting the New Testament, based on a model which has Second Temple Judaism as its background. Holland argues that the complexity of the writings, and the difficulty in establishing contexts and schools of thought which provide consistent readings of the writings, make definitive observations and statements about their underpinning of New Testament thought very problematic. He argues for a more thorough-going use by the NT writers and early church of the OT as the background which shaped their thinking and theology, and this in a unique way without parallel in the inter-testamental literature.

However, Holland lines up with NP scholarship in agreeing that Paul’s theology is essentially Semitic, rooted in the Old Testament, and not Hellenistic. His conclusions, based on extensive study, diverge from NP scholarship, however – albeit not totally, but at key points.

In particular, Holland disagrees with Dunn and Wright that Paul’s opposition to the early church arose from his belonging to the Jewish Zealot faction, directed against Hellenists, who supposedly were in the vanguard of encouraging uncircumsised gentiles into the covenant people of God. Holland argues that Paul’s chief contention with the early church was its preaching of a crucified messiah.

Holland also disagrees with Wright’s view that justification was essentially a declaration identifying who belonged to the covenant people of God. By pursuing the New Exodus provenance of the word, Holland argues that while it does have primarily a covenant rather than forensic significance, the word itself implies the creation of the new covenant, rather than its identification. Holland argues that the Reformers were not wrong in seeing justification as the means of entry to the covenant, but that they failed to emphasise the historical basis of the covenant as being deeply shaped by the Passover paradigm.

Dr Holland pursues in detail a widespread, profound and pervasive use of language in Paul’s writings which firmly anchors his redemptive theology in the narrative historical soteriology of Israel. A key to unlocking this observation is the recognition that the Old Testament, especially the eschatological vision of Ezekiel, and extra-biblical writings, saw an atonement as well as a redemptive significance in the Passover, and that in Ezekiel the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement merged with the observation of the Passover in the eschatological temple. Hence in Holland’s detailed exploration of Romans 3, the hitherto problematic hilasterion (trans. propitiation, or sin offering, whilst actually referring to the mercy seat which covered the ark of the covenant in the temple), finds a natural home and explanation.

On the issue of hilasterion, Holland also refutes contemporary scholarship’s resort to 4 Maccabees 17:22, where it is used to imply a martyrdom theology, this being taken up and subsequently applied to Christ’s own death. Holland points out the limitations of this as a way of interpreting the death of Christ, and provides a way of interpreting the word in its Romans context which resolves the difficulties which it had previously posed.

Thus far has been some observation on details of Dr Holland’s thesis. But not content with detail, which he provides in abundance, his work throws up challenges to various threads of the NP school which require an answer. He also provides a major paradigm for understanding the theology of Paul, and the gospels. The paradigm is significant, because it builds on the work of NP thinkers, and accepts a basic premise, that the narrative history of the people of God is central to understanding the significance of Christ and his death on the cross, and that much that has subsequently been reshaped into ontological categories for interpreting scripture can now be restored to a more convincing home, providing greater integrity, and actually a simpler unifying way of understanding things. This, Holland asserts, was the theology which Paul inherited from his Judaistic background, but which had already been formed by the early church. Paul introduced nothing new.

An example of how this approach works out can be seen in Holland’s exposition of the ‘hymn’ in Colossians 1:15-20. The current consensus sees a Wisdom provenance for the language of the hymn – connecting Proverbs 8 with Genesis 1 in particular. Dr Holland takes the key introductory word prototokos – firstborn, and demonstrates its relationship with the Passover, and why this word, rather than its associate in OT writings, Redeemer, was extensively used in the NT. The prototokos performed the function of Redeemer in OT thought, whilst also connoting substitutionary sacrifice and atonement. (‘Redeemer’ did not imply the latter, and ‘redemption’ was not the sole prerogative of the firstborn – hence, Holland argues, its non-use in describing Jesus in the NT). The hymn ends with a further cultic reference in the blood of Jesus. Holland offers the intervening links to locate it entirely to a New Exodus context.

The other major theme of the book is the exploration of the corporate dimension of Paul’s thinking. Again, there is nothing new in the attempt to move from a highly individualised reading of the letters to the more authentic corporate setting in which they would originally have been read. But Holland takes this much further than many, bearing in mind the corporate significance of the Passover and New Exodus settings which he is using to interpret Paul. So he takes words and phrases such as ‘body of sin’, or ‘the old man’, and ‘the new man’ to be consistently corporate. Going further, he suggests that references to baptism in Romans 6 are not technically related to the meaning of an individual’s water baptism, but have a consistent relationship to the people of God as a whole, based on the Passover paradigm of baptism into Moses, and the corporate passage through the Red Sea. This makes sense, in Holland’s view, of the otherwise uncertain meaning of baptism in, for instance, 1 Corinthians 12:13 (with its distinct Passover references).

Of particular interest, in relation to Dr Holland’s pursuit of the corporate significance of Paul’s thinking within the New Exodus framework, is the light he sheds on the otherwise puzzling 1 Corinthians 6:15ff “Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never” etc. Holland argues, using historical research which suggests that Aphrodite worship did not entail temple prostitution in the Roman period at Corinth, that the prostitute or harlot here is not an individual example, but a demonic corporate entity – akin to the harlot of Revelation. The believer may be free to eat meat which has been sacrificed in pagan temple ceremonies, but is not free to engage in the feasts which accompany the ceremonies themselves – as the letter goes on to elucidate, making reference, of course, to the first Exodus.

Dr Holland is not the first to explore the New Exodus as a way of understanding Paul or the NT generally, and he enumerates many others who have done some sort of work on the subject. He is probably the first to pursue the New Exodus to an extent in which it is shown to shape the thinking of Paul on a broad scale, and to suggest that this is what underpinned the theology of the NT writers, in relating the messiah Jesus to the OT narrative. In so doing, he throws up considerable challenges to contemporary biblical studies, in relation to Paul in particular, although, as already suggested, not exclusively to Paul. Dr Holland’s style is sometimes rather whimsical, occasionally overdoing assertions of what he has proved, rather than letting the arguments speak for themselves. I occasionally found it helpful to read the words to myself with a Welsh accent. Somehow the Celtic voice seemed to help interpret the script, in the strange interior world of my head.

As the book throws up some challenges to the narrative historical reading of the NT provided by The Coming of the Son of Man, I felt it would be particularly interesting to interact with it on opensourcetheology.

This is one of the most stimulating works of academic scholarship I have read. I wonder how well it will transfer into the realm of popular thinking and theology in the church at large – in ways that the NP paradigm(s) seem not to have been able to do.

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

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

Review: Currents in Theology and Mission, August 2007 (Graydon F. Snyder)

Contours of Pauline Theology: A Radical New Survey of the Influences on Paul
Currents in Theology and Mission,  August, 2007 by Graydon F. Snyder

Contours of Pauline Theology: A Radical New Survey of the Influences on Paul. By Tom Holland. Fearn, Scotland: Mentor, 2004. 382 pages. Cloth. $22.99.

Tom Holland teaches New Testament and Hermeneutics at the University of Wales. This book on Paul was written in the context of his work in that university. While not a simple study, Holland’s theses are straightforward. First, the theology of Paul depends more on the Hebrew Scriptures than on Hellenistic thinking (pp. 109, 288). Second, Paul speaks of communal deliverance rather than individual salvation (p. 110). Third, the Exodus or Paschal motif formed the basis of Paul’s Christology (pp. 167-72, 225, 290).
Though the Exodus motif depends on Pentateuchal narratives, especially Exodus, Holland finds in the prophet Isaiah the most immediate use of the motif for Paul, especially the doulos passages (pp. 31-34). The believer enters the Christian Paschal community through baptism in the death of Jesus (Rom 6:1-6; pp. 141-54). That death of Jesus, which opens up the New Israel, reflects one primary motif–the Passover (Rom 3:21-26 and the meaning of hilasterion; pp. 157-82). So in Paul divine justification references the whole process of redemptive history. It speaks of the “corporate salvation accomplished by Christ’s death and resurrection” (p. 209). Holland appreciates the New Perspective on Paul that tries to erase the assumed antagonism between Paul and Judaism (e.g., Sanders, Dunn, and Wright), but he believes their view of the Jewish law as covenantal nomism doesn’t quite allow covenant to be defined in terms of the Exodus rather than boundary markers, such as circumcision, Sabbath observance, and kosher food (pp. 183-205).

Finally, Holland wrestles with another major theme of the historical Exodus and the theology of Paul: the firstborn. As he is aware, the joining of Jesus as the suffering servant with the firstborn does not easily satisfy the reader or even Holland himself (pp. 237-86). He does derive some satisfaction from the secondary Pauline hymn found in Col 1:15-20 where Christ is the prototokos from the dead.

As indicated, this book is complicated. The language is clear, but the ideas, and the discussions with other scholars, reveal procedural difficulties. Holland assumes that his covenantal thesis goes back to the Reformation. He assumes that he is a conservative and that those who disagree with him are liberals (p. 53). To be sure, liberals do tend to be sociologically individualistic, but no more so than conservatives and fundamentalists who seek the personal salvation of unbelievers. In fact his covenant motif resembles the older Heilsgeschichte theology in which the redeeming act of God occurs in the context of God’s people. A wide spectrum of scholars were associated with this position. Few people would call this reviewer conservative, yet I find myself in considerable agreement with the communal approach presented by Holland. That is, baptism joins the person to the body of Christ, eucharist celebrates the formation of the new Israel, and redemption references acceptance into the people of God. Holland does well to stress once more the communal nature of the Christian faith.

Graydon F. Snyder
Chicago, Illinois
COPYRIGHT 2007 Lutheran School of Theology and Mission
COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group

Review: Baptist Times (Trevor Reynolds)

A New look at Paul
‘Contours of Pauline Theology’

A Radical New Survey of the influences on Paul’s Biblical writings
By Tom Holland    Christian Focus:Mentor 2004  £14.99
ISBN 1-85792-469-X
Reviewer: Trevor Reynolds

As Christians, we frequently read our Bibles exclusively in terms of how it applies to ‘me’ rather than ‘us’. Thus, perhaps unwittingly, we become even more embedded in the individualistic ‘me culture’ of today. In this new book, Dr Holland forcefully argues that we need to read the Scriptures in a much more corporate way. He does this by showing how Paul wrote his letters from the viewpoint of one who had been schooled in the corporate/covenant categories of the Old Testament which he went on to apply to his understanding of Christianity. As a Jew, Paul would have thought of salvation primarily in terms of the Exodus and Passover sacrifice, categories which are fundamental to a proper understanding of Paul’s writings.

Continue reading Review: Baptist Times (Trevor Reynolds)

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.

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

Review: Congregational Concern (Dr. Chris Sinkinson)

Contours of Pauline Theology
Tom Holland
Mentor Press, Ross-Shire, 2004

There is, at present, a huge debate going on in theological studies over the interpretation of Paul and his letters. Among Protestants the massive influence of Luther and Calvin has established a widely accepted understanding of Paul, legalistic religion, the atonement and justification by faith. However, this orthodoxy has been significantly questioned through the present debate. E.P. Sanders provided evidence that first century Judaism had been badly misunderstood by Protestants. The Jewish background to the rise of Christianity was not a religion of works but a much more sophisticated “covenantal nomism”. Evangelicalism has been forced to rethink its understanding of these issues particularly with the influential work of N.T.Wright. To cap it all, at a very popular level, the new perspective has even had its bearing on the recent controversial book from Steve Chalke  – The Lost Message of Jesus.

Continue reading Review: Congregational Concern (Dr. Chris Sinkinson)

Review: Evangel (Dr. Stephen Dray)

Contours of Pauline Theology
Tom Holland
Fearn: Mentor, 2004
382pp, h/b, £14.99
ISBN 1-85792-369-X

The purpose of this important book is to demonstrate that, in contra-distinction to most contemporary New Testament scholarship, Paul was not the innovator who created Christianity but a faithful disciple of Jesus who never left his inherited religion of the Old Testament. The present reviewer, an Old Testament specialist, finds Holland’s arguments as largely compelling and would suggest that Holland has re-integrated the faith of Old and New Testaments in a manner that serves effectively to emphasise the unity of Scripture.

Continue reading Review: Evangel (Dr. Stephen Dray)