Hope for the nations

We live in an age of fear. Nations and communities are dividing and warring. Understanding what drives this change is difficult to grasp until we listen to one of the greatest healers of communities that have ever lived.

The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome and explained why divisions tear people apart. There has never been a greater need to listen to the analysis of this giant of history to gain a clear understanding of what is wrong with our world.

Tom Holland has spent over 40 years researching the influence of Isaiah’s promised second exodus on Paul and the place of the Passover in his theology. He did his PhD on the topic and went on to supervise twelve students who then explored aspects of the Paschal New Exodus theme to obtain their own qualification.

He is the is the Senior Research Fellow of Union School of Theology, Oxford and is the undisputed world leader in this branch of theology known as Paschal New Exodus Theology. The book shows how these OT themes are far better sources for understanding the thinking of not only the apostle but especially Jesus and the entire Apostolic community.

Can you face the challenge to rethink most of what you currently understand about this important Bible book? Do you want to expand your horizons to include, among other things, a new exodus, corporate relationships and the Jewish influence on Paul’s writings? If so, this is one book that you really shouldn’t miss.

Tom Holland has demystified the language of the letter of Romans so that all can access this incredible treasure of Christian truth. Clearly and powerfully written to bring the truths that have brought peace to countless millions of people throughout history.

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See reviews below:

Academic endorsements

No one has helped me read & understand St. Paul more than Tom Holland. I find his work to be the near-perfect balance of creative yet careful, original yet faithful. While many talk about theological exegesis—Dr. Holland actually does it, and he does it well.

Dustin Messer (www.kuyperian.com)

Tom Holland always remains alert to the influence and relevance of the Old Testament and emphasises the impact of Paul’s thought upon the church as a community. Above all, Tom Holland deploys his scholarship to produce a very salient and practical commentary.

Anthony C Thiselton, Professor of Christian Theology, University of Nottingham

Tom Holland’s Romans is truly both biblical and theological as the letter is set firmly in its unfolding canonical context. Holland shows how Romans contributes to our understanding of God’s covenant arrangement with humankind. The commentary digs deep into current scholarship on the Old Testament roots of Paul’s teaching, yet presents its conclusions in accessible language.

Prof Douglas Moo. Blanchard Professor of New Testament, Wheaton College

Tom Holland’s study demonstrates how a deeper understanding of the Old Testament and particularly of its prophesied new exodus can illumine Paul’s theology of the person and work of Christ in profound ways. Here one will find scholarship that is not only solid and faithful, thorough and yet accessible – in short, scholarship in the service of the church.

Prof L. Michael Morales, PhD., Professor of Biblical Studies, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Greenville, USA

Tom’s commentary invites readers to break away from fixed ideas and journey to new places. It is informed, scholarly, rich in exegetical insights, yet easy to understand. Tom argues for a reading of Romans that is tied to the Old Testament Scriptures, rooted in Isaiah, is Christ centred and communally focused. I highly recommend it for pilgrims seeking to know God more.

Dr Murray Lawson. President of Scripture Union Canada

This commentary on Romans is a reworking of Tom Holland’s Divine Marriage published in 2011. Most of the footnotes and the subsidiary technical arguments have gone. The result is that not only is it more accessible to a wider readership, but the thrust of Dr Holland’s argument in many key places is now clearer.

Increasingly modern biblical scholarship has come to the view that the early post-apostolic church, possibly because of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., lost track of many Jewish perspectives and often interpreted Scripture with a Greco-Roman mind-set. For many, it is still this paradigm that controls their understanding of the New Testament. But Dr Holland, in his introduction to the commentary, walks us back towards a Jewish mind-set—one that Paul (‘a Hebrew of the Hebrews’) almost certainly had. In the opinion of this reviewer the book is worth acquiring for this Introduction alone.

For those familiar with more traditional commentaries from the Reformed stable, Dr Holland’s consistent employment of this Jewish mind-set in his reading of the text might at first seem to yield a strange exegesis, but if you bear with it you are in for a rich reward. In his exegesis he keeps to the fore the fact that the letter was written to a church not to an individual—hence the subtitle: ‘A Corporate Reading’—the way in which this changes the traditional understanding of familiar passages has considerable pastoral implications. Furthermore, Dr Holland points out that words such as: sin, righteousness, flesh, and body carry different meanings in the letter than a nominal reading might suggest.

For example, when discussing the concept of righteousness in chapters 3 and 4 of Romans, he sees that the word has a rich semantic domain rooted in the Old Testament understanding, an understanding that includes the concept of being in a covenant relationship with God. Thus, while defending the Reformation concept of forensic justification (which enables a right relationship with God), Dr Holland convincingly argues that Abraham’s faith being counted to him as righteousness was not that Abraham’s faith gave rise to a forensic justification of his sins, but that his declaration of faith was taken as his acceptance of the covenant God was offering—a covenant that God had secured for all his elect people. In his comments on these chapters Dr Holland accepts that recent scholarship is correct to point out that not all Jews saw the law as a burden (termed the ‘New Perspective’)—rather it was seen by many as the seal of their relationship with God (described by some Jews as their ‘marriage ring’). Although this appears to have been Paul’s own perspective (see Philippians 3:4-6 where confidence in the ‘flesh’ is Paul’s confidence in belonging to a national Israel that possessed the law), after his conversion Paul’s position changed, as is evidenced in Romans 4:15.

Dr Holland points out that chapters 5 to 7 pursue a new exodus theme: Jesus the Messiah is to deliver His people in the exodus promised by many Old Testament prophets. Just as the first exodus began with the sacrifice of the Passover lamb and was followed by a ‘marriage’ at Sinai, the new exodus was marked with Jesus’ own Passover sacrifice and will culminate in the marriage supper of the Lamb. In the process Dr Holland draws attention to the fact that Ezekiel 45:21-25 foreshadows Calvary by, in effect, conflating the Day of Atonement with the Passover in the description of the final temple—the church.

He persuasively argues that it is necessary to grasp that in these chapters Paul is dealing with the history of humanity and sees them as two people groups—the lost versus the saved. Paul refers to them in several different ways: those in Adam versus those in Christ; the old man/the body of sin/the body of death versus the body of Christ. Furthermore, Dr Holland sees that Paul personifies sin (it might be noted that Genesis 4:7 shares this perspective, God telling Cain that sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you)—and that sin is an entity that binds fallen humanity in a covenantal relationship.

Sanders, Dunn, and Wright also point to Paul’s personification of sin and ‘his’ relationship to fallen humanity, but Dr Holland’s singular contribution is to identify the fact that Paul employs a marital imagery that envisages sin (Satan) as the husband in a marriage with the body of sin (fallen humanity) that is the precise antithesis of the Pauline bride/body of Christ imagery. This understanding is, in the opinion of this reviewer, strengthened by the fact that there are remarkable similarities between Israel in the Promised Land and their subsequent exile (consistently portrayed in the Old Testament as a marriage and divorce respectively), and the Edenic story where Adam was similarly provided for but then exiled—an exile described in the Hebrew in terms that are used for a divorce. It seems Adam, our federal head, rejected one covenantal relationship only to enter another with Satan—and both are framed as marital covenants.

With this hermeneutic, Dr Holland sees that in these chapters in the letter to Romans Paul portrays Christ as having to die for the elect within the body of sin—unredeemed humanity ‘married’ to Satan—to release them from that marriage so that He can take them as His own bride (the body of Christ). Thus the old self that is crucified and the body of sin that is brought to nothing (Rom 6:6) is referring to the fact that Jesus died in the place of the elect of the bride of Satan thus terminating that marriage. The cry in Romans 7:24—Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death—and the exultant response in v. 25: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!—is Paul rejoicing in the release of the elect from Satan’s grip—not in a victory over personal sins. It is a persuasive exegesis of a section of Scripture that has puzzled many scholars.

The insights continue as the commentary unfolds—so in chapter 9 of the letter Dr Holland sees that God does not create people to be dammed, rather He creates people for honour and service. Thus Pharaoh was a representative head of his nation chosen by God to be the caretaker of His people in exile, but nonetheless his rejection of that role (his hardening) was ultimately in God’s hands. He argues that Romans 10:6 ‘Who shall ascend to heaven’ (that is to bring Christ down) speaks of Christ’s ascension into the Father’s presence, rather than His incarnation—the bring Christ down being reflected in the concept outlined elsewhere in Scripture that Christ after His ascension is now present in the believing community.

Colin Hamer

Endorsements from the general public

As a layperson I found this book totally fascinating, and written in a style that is straightforward, yet at the same time profoundly challenging to my previously held views on the book of Romans. The author brought out ideas that forced me to reconsider many of the standpoints I had read in other commentaries. Also his reasoning behind the corporate reading of Romans is logical and entirely convincing, producing a potentially new understanding of the points that Paul is making. This book is a joy to read (I have read and re-read it), and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who wants a fuller understanding of this important epistle.

Roy Harries  Submitted on Goodreads

Maybe the second best commentary on Romans after Moo (if it doesn’t equal it). What make it strengh is Holland’s incredible mastery of intertextuality, particularly here applied to the study Romans. He did not only realized that the main root of Paul’s (Romans) theology is the Old Testament (especially Isaiah, the prophets and the theme of the new exodus), but he shew that more than the others commentaries by writing amazing and extended explanations of Paul’s quotes and allusions to the OT in Romans. He thereby completes the few gaps of Moo on some quotations.

His contribution to the study of Romans is huge : he supplies us with a lot of “biblical theology’s insights” in Romans. Besides he clearly defends a corporative (the Church) rather than an individual reading (the believer as an individual) of Romans.

Now, the book, of course is not perfect. I wasn’t convince by all his views such as corporal election rather than individual election in Romans 9 (and his violent criticism of Piper’s “The justification of God”). I think that he goes sometimes too far with his corporate view as in Romans 6. Perhaps his view of justification and righteousness of God are to far away from the reformed understanding.

Laurent Dv  Submitted on Goodreads

M.W. Johnson Review: “Hope for the Nations” by Dr. Tom Holland

When I read the publicity material for Tom Holland’s “Hope for the Nations” and requested a copy for review, I didn’t consciously realize that I was in for 464 pages of reading. I should have of course, he is after all writing about the Book of Romans. I am nevertheless really enjoying the read but have to admit up front that I am posting this review before having completed the whole book. I still have a long way to go and it is going to take some time. This is not the sort of book you pick up, read from cover to cover then throw it on the bookshelf and forget about it. It is a book that takes time to read, to think about and appreciate – unless of course you want to disagree with the author’s basic assertions. The publicity material for this book says in part:

Dr. Tom Holland proves in his compelling new book, scholarly interpretation of the volume (Romans) has been fraught with misconceptions. Dr. Holland attempts to correct these points of confusion and, in the process, challenge every level of readers’ Biblical beliefs. Dr. Holland has produced a … highly readable analysis, [and] asks the reader to rethink familiar passages in Paul’s Letter to the Romans in fresh ways. He corrects many widespread misunderstandings of Paul which have obscured the powerful message of the Biblical text, and his argument for a corporate reading permits the Reformer’s forensic sense of justification to be maintained even in the light of the covenantal context of the New Perspective on Paul. Tom Holland’s Hope for the Nations is both truly biblical and thoroughly theological. Church leaders, scholars and students alike will find their views on the well-known text challenged and transformed.

I believe that I can write the review prior to finishing the whole work because firstly my Legal and Theological background allows me to quickly grasp the author’s concepts which means that I already do understand the value of this work to the ordinary reader and to the scholar. Secondly, the reviewer’s job is not meant to be about providing his/her own personal stamp of approval or otherwise on the author’s work, but is a commentary about content, style and general ‘readability.’ One can easily enjoy an author’s writing style without enjoying the tale told. Likewise one can enjoy the storyline in an otherwise ineptly written novel.

In the case of this presentation of Dr. Holland’s “Hope for the Nations: Paul’s Letter to the Romans,” I am enjoying both the style of writing and content and recommend the book for the reasons set out below.

Firstly, unlike some expository material, this book seems to have been written with the ordinary, common, household reader in mind. There is nothing worse than trying to read something that is written in language and expresses concepts that you simply can’t get your head around. This book is pretty much a straightforward read and explains what is written in Romans from the author’s central perspective. The issue of perspective is an important point because it is the second reason for recommending the book.

Christians often study the Bible — or perhaps ‘theology’ without understanding a particular author’s theological perspective, and certainly do frequently study without full appreciation for the cultural context in which the books of the Bible were written. Dr. Holland’s theological perspective is that when St. Paul wrote the letter to the Romans he was primarily pitching the message to a corporate body of people who ‘heard’ the message read aloud, as opposed to ‘reading’ it as a personal message to an individual which would then be understood from the individual’s perspective. The message read aloud to the corporate body was received as a corporate message and relied upon a corporate understanding of the foundational premises of that message. And that message was expounded from within a Jewish perspective. At the time the Letter to the Romans was written the church was still predominantly Jewish. Today we don’t really have a ‘Jewish’ perspective of Christ. I could go into more detail but I think it best to let the reader discover those details from the book.

The third reason I recommend this work is because for me, it revitalizes long held thoughts and ideas and does so in succinctly refreshing ways. I was so stirred by the eloquence of the expression of certain ideas that I felt that I was receiving fresh illumination. Whilst this is a personal perspective, for the general reader I can put it like this. The author’s ‘corporate-Jewish’ presentation of Scripture in relation to the work of Christ will probably provide you with a far deeper understanding of the work of Christ and reveal to you the real significance of the manner in which that work was carried out.

I think that this book will benefit every person who is seeking to understand Christ and his Redemptive Mission. By way of example, on Page 101 the author explains the exact nature of God’s covenant with Abraham and points out that whereas both parties to a covenant had to swear to fulfill their obligations, the Abrahamic covenant was sworn only by God himself, so that if the covenant was broken in any way it would be he himself who was bound to suffer the covenant curses. Therefore when Abraham’s descendants broke the covenant, it was God himself who had to pay the penalty. This is by no means a new concept but the author’s straightforward exposition really illuminates the understanding of the ‘Passover Sacrifice.’ Christ suffered the curse thereby allowing God to impute righteouness to the people and his blood protects all those sealed by it from the judgment on sin.

I have a long way to go in finishing this book, but it is extremely obvious to me that both the author’s writing and expository style are delightful and illuminating. His presentation on the ‘Law’ and ‘Circumcision’ will surely be understood by everyone as will his explanation of the significance of ‘Passover’ and ‘Atonement.’

This book does not seem to be specifically designed for scholars and theology students. It is not a complicated read. This is not to say of course that I fully agree with all concepts expressed. In fact I find myself at odds with the author on one very important theological point but I am not going to bore you with that. It is a point which most scholars fail to see and I hope in time someone will come along and provide fresh illumination on that matter as this author has on the Jewish perspective of the Letter to the Romans.

To the author may I say: “Well done sir!”

M. W. Johnson, reviewed in:

Magic City Morning Star
146 Katahdin Avenue
Millinocket, Maine 04462

Aug 18, 2015 – 7:27:27 AM