Review (Romans): Guildford Community Church (Peter Wilkinson)

Romans: The Divine Marriage  – Dr Tom Holland

This commentary follows Dr Holland’s striking development of the ‘new exodus’ motif as a key background concept to understanding Paul in ‘Contours of Pauline Theology’. The first book provided some astonishing new ways of reading Paul, and brought out the significance of the ‘new exodus’ as a paradigm for understanding the New Testament. The Romans commentary pursues the new exodus motif in further detail.

The new exodus exploration opens up Romans in some fresh ways, not least the revisiting of Romans 3:20ff, where the key term hilasterion is provided with new exodus significance, drawing especially on Ezekiel’s use of the term in the eschatological temple’s celebration of Passover in Ezekiel 45. Dr Holland also introduces us to the influence of Ezekiel’s new exodus themes more widely in Paul.

The new exodus line of thinking leads to a rigorously corporate interpretation of passages in Romans which have conventionally been interpreted as individualistic. So the corporate emphasis of Romans 5 (full of echoes of return from exile, a key new exodus theme), continues into Romans 6-8, with surprising results. A major challenge to conventional interpretation is the locating of the word flesh within a covenantal, and therefore corporate framework. Dr Holland is careful to explore the various nuances of the meaning of the word within the biblical corpus, but the result is a much more satisfying connection of the word with its OT roots, and a shift from the usual ontological understanding with its myriad complexities and psychological introspectiveness.

The commentary develops a crucial distinction in the way justification is used in Romans 4, between its applications to Abraham and David. Through this distinction, Dr Holland is able to build on the New Perspective understanding of the term as developed by Tom Wright (in relation to Abraham), and the way the Reformers used the word (in relation to David). Dr Holland develops an argument for reinforcing the view that justification is not merely a declaration of righteousness, as asserted by the New Perspective, but includes within its semantic domain the Reformation ideas of forensic justification and being brought into a covenant relationship with God. He then incorporates the use of justification language in Israel’s ‘new exodus’ restoration from exile, relating this to the key ‘justification’ section of Romans, chapter 5.

The excursuses on righteousness, the flesh and justification are treasure troves in themselves, and the commentary is bristling with insights. The book dialogues with contemporary theological discussion, and takes on board the best results of these, whilst staunchly defending the faith of the Reformers, and presenting strong arguments for their position. Along the way, Dr Holland points out what he takes to be some key shortcomings of New Perspective positions.

Above all, the commentary brings Romans alive in fresh ways, and as with ‘Contours’, drives us back to the biblical text armed with fresh insights and equipped with fresh tools for mining the gold from this letter, which proves its worth for the 21st century as for all preceding ages. Dr Holland illustrates well the maxim of the pilgrim fathers in relation to Romans: ‘The Lord has more truth yet to break forth out of his holy Word.’

Peter Wilkinson
Guildford Community Church

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