If there is one book that you should read and have in your library, this Romans commentary is the one. It is a massively important work for all who love the Lord Jesus Christ. Holland’s labour of love brings forth the rich Jewish theology and corporate worldview of the Apostle Paul that is so often overlooked by our individualistic Western presuppositions. Seeing Romans afresh through the lens of the Apostle’s Jewish mindset is both engaging and enlightening. Holland delves into the text with all the integrity and acumen of a true biblical scholar, seeking at every turn to discover the root context of the corporate Hebrew understanding. He shows that Yahweh has covenanted himself in marriage, through Jesus Christ, to his redeemed people, thus fulfilling the entire Messianic hope of the Old Testament scriptures. The salvation accomplished by Jesus is shown to be the grand eschatological fulfillment of all that Israel’s Passover and Exodus redemption prefigured. This commentary is thoughtfully written at a level for all Christians to enjoy and is both warmly pastoral and deeply instructive. This work is a gift of love to the Church of Jesus Christ. May the Lord add his heavenly blessing upon it for the edification of the new covenant community.
Tom Holland in his Romans commentary interacts with the controversial teaching of the New Perspective theologians – and much more besides.
But rather than retreat into Reformed formulations, he engages with the latest views, re-evaluates traditional positions, and breathes new life into Reformed teachings without repudiating them. For example (writing as a self-styled biblical, rather than systematic, theologian) he sees that the “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” of Genesis 15:6 has been pressed too readily into service by the Reformers as a text that teaches imputed righteousness – and yet Holland does not reject that doctrine.
Furthermore he brings clarity to the complex area of covenantal nomism. He agrees with the New Perspective theologians that Paul, along with his compatriots, rejoiced in the law – indeed Paul considered himself blameless (Philippians 3:6); but this was only before his conversion, not afterwards, when he came to see that the law in fact condemned all men and women before God (Romans 4:15).
In addition Holland brings insights of his own – he sees that in many passages where Paul speaks of the “body” he means a body of people. He gives detailed linguistic arguments for this perspective, and shows that the “body of sin” is fallen mankind who entered into a covenant with Sin (Satan) via their federal head Adam. This body is the counterpart to the “body of Christ” – the church. Although this perspective is not unique to Holland he applies it more consistently in his exegesis than others. At first, if you are not familiar with this concept, it can seem strange – but if you stay with it there is a reward as light is cast on some verses that have always been considered to be ‘difficult’.
For me the climax of his commentary is his exposition of chapters 6 & 7. Holland sees that Paul is telling us that Christ died in the place of the bride of Satan (the body of Sin) to break the legitimate authority the law gives a husband. This explains Paul’s comments at the centre of these two chapters where he reminds us that the death of a spouse ends a marriage. We can now see it is the death of Christ that releases the elect from her former ‘husband’ for her to become Christ’s bride and his body. This, to my mind, is a convincing exegesis – and reveals the cosmic implications of Christ’s death and the “Divine Marriage” in a new and exciting way.
So, if you want a quiet read to reassure yourself that there is nothing new to learn other than what the great Reformers taught – this commentary is not for you.
But, if you want a stimulating, thought provoking, mind stretching, Christ-exalting journey through Romans that interacts with recent scholarship and yet respects the Reformers’ teaching – I think you will be hard pushed to find a commentary to best this one.
If there is intellectual integrity in the evangelical world, I am convinced this reading of Romans will win the day eventually.
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 hilasterionis 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. All agree that Holland has moved the debate on Paul decisively forwards and that a significant counter-proposal to the proponents of the New Perspective on Paul has been launched.
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.’