Contours of Pauline Theology: A Radical New Survey of the Influences on Paul’s Biblical Writings. By Tom Holland. Geanies House, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2004. 382 pp. Cloth. $22.99.
Many NT scholars in the past have tried to say that Jesus’ message was not the same as Paul’s. Others, in the last hundred years, have tried to prove that the Gospels were written by Christian communities who created these stories in order to teach Gentile believers what Jesus might have taught if had He lived among them. Holland reacts, “But if these records do not accurately record Jesus’ teaching, then we cannot possibly ask if Paul is teaching the same thing as Jesus” (p. 11). Both schools of thought have undermined the credibility of the Bible. In this new book, Holland sets out to map a new Pauline paradigm, which looks through the eyes of the Passover and a corporate reading of Scripture (i.e., a unified community rather than disconnected individuals).
In order to orient the reader to the discussion, Holland begins by looking at a prominent view in NT scholarship which sees an evolution of thought in the NT from a “Jewish message to a fully Gentile (Hellenistic) religion with Jewish origins” (p. 14). Thus, Holland identifies the quagmire that this scholarship has created: “How do we know the meaning of the New Testament documents?” (p. 14). Holland answers them by first showing how this evolution began during the second century and second, how the New Exodus motif is abundant in the NT. Holland notes that the “Old Testament expectations…overflow into the aspirations and understanding of the early church. They saw that it was Jesus who had brought these promises to fulfillment. It was Jesus who had brought about the New Exodus and with it its resultant blessings” (pp. 29-30). Holland concludes the first section “Explorations of Heritage” (pp. 11-84) by looking at major presuppositions that affect this issue (chap. 2), the influence of Isaiah on Paul’s thinking (chap. 3), and a new look at the word servant or doulos in the NT (chap. 4).
Holland’s second section, entitled “Passover and Community,” touches on his belief that the phrase “the body of sin” (chap. 5) is corporate in nature, what he believes is its opposite, namely “the body of Christ” (chap. 6), and his view that baptism is corporate in nature (chap. 7).
Section three, entitled “Soteriology and Passover,” will surely be the most interesting section for the majority of JOTGES readers. In chap. 8 Holland links the Passover with our ultimate redemption. The author is generally clear that justification is by faith alone in Christ alone, however, he seems to link righteousness with the covenant community (p. 170). This is fully explained in chap. 9. Holland asserts, “It is my intention to show that justification in the New Testament does have the forensic meaning that the Reformers understood, but at the same time a much wider content that relates to how God brings people into a covenant relationship with himself” (p. 183). He believes that Paul was not criticizing Judaism because of their legalism but rather their nationalism. He thinks that “Paul’s activity as a zealot was not directed toward Gentiles, but towards fellow Jews…keeping Jews in their rightful place, of being true to the law” (p. 190).
He explains N. T. Wright’s view of justification, saying “Justification therefore, Wright argues, is about being declared to be within the covenant, a status which was the work of God’s grace. When Yahweh declared Israel to be justified, he was declaring her to be his people…The believer is not justified when he believes. Rather, justification is used by Paul in the context of covenantal nominism. It is about being declared to be in the covenant” (p. 198). Agreeing, he writes, “Wright (following Dunn), correctly in my view, points out that Galatians is not about how a person is made right with God, but whether the Gentile converts should be circumcised or not. Wright says that the issue is how you define the people of God” (p. 199). This view turns Galatians into a lesson on tolerance and transforms Paul into an anti-Semite.
In chap. 10 he continues this theme. Concerning Abraham’s justification, Holland writes, “He [Abraham] was effectively believing that God would be faithful to the promise he had made, and God responded by crediting to him righteousness, i.e., accrediting to him the status of what he was to become, the head of a redeemed covenant community” (pp. 214-15). This interpretation takes God’s declaration that Abraham was right before Him and turns it into a coronation ceremony.
The fourth section “Christology and Passover” explains Holland’s view that the firstborn was important Passover imagery applied to Jesus (chap. 11) and that the New Exodus motif was “fundamental to the theology and letters of Paul” (p. 286), which the Book of Colossians illustrates.
Holland concludes his work by noting that “two major lenses have been missing from virtually all New Testament exegesis…the Passover and…a corporate reading of the texts” (p. 291). I believe his conclusion is correct, but unfortunately much of his evidence does not uphold it.
Michael D. Makidon
Director of Publications
Grace Evangelical Society