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.