Review Essay of “Tom Wright and the Search for Truth: A Theological Evaluation” by Tom Holland

Tom Holland, Tom Wright and the Search for Truth: A Theological Evaluation (London: Apiary Publishing), 2017. Pp. 495.

by Don Garlington

This full-sized volume consists of thirteen chapters: (1) “Probing the Contours of Recent Research;” (2) “Probing Saul and His Political Identity;” (3) “Probing Paul and His Theological Identity;” (4) “Probing Paul and His Intellectual Identity;” (5) “Probing Further Use of Hellenistic Language and Imagery;” (6) “Probing Paul’s Use of Second Temple Literature;” (7) “Probing Paul’s Understanding of the Person of Christ (Christology);” (8) “Probing Paul’s Doctrine of the Atonement;” (9) “Probing Wright’s Doctrine of Justification;” (10) “Probing the Doctrine of Justification” (11) “Probing the Doctrine of Justification in Romans and Galatians;” (12) “Probing Justification in the Remainder of Paul’s Letters;” (13) “Reconciling Conflict and Review.” As is readily evident, the book is an extended exercise in probing.[i]

In the Preface, Holland outlines his initial contacts with Wright and sketches out his concerns. Mainly, Holland takes issue with Wright’s historical reading of Paul in the light of Second Temple Judaism (2TJ). The author does not deny that these texts have value in shedding light on the cultural backdrop of the day, but he is concerned that “this relatively new method of reading the New Testament through this lens has inadvertently opened the door for this literature to have an undue influence on Tom Wright’s interpretation of the New Testament” (p. 16). Consequently, “I believe. . .that by using these extra-biblical sources, Tom Wright has added extraneous thoughts and concepts to Paul’s theology resulting in a loss of clarity regarding the apostle’s teaching” (p. 16). So, we are not surprised to read that, according to Holland, Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said should have been What Saint Paul Ought to Have Said (p. 17).

As Holland continues, the reason for opening this discussion is that Wright’s methodology has had such an influence on hundreds of other scholars. While Holland supports Wright’s desire to show that Paul taught a Jewish message, he also believes the way Wright uses intertestamental literature has unwittingly produced an inaccurate version of Paul’s teaching (pp. 17–18). Another reason for this undertaking is the interest the two authors share regarding the New Exodus motif. Holland relates that he has a “deep commitment” to the model, but has reached different conclusions than those of Wright. Thus, “The fact that our work shares a common emphasis on the New Exodus theme give me the opportunity of showing the benefits of my methodology against his” (p. 18). In a nutshell, it all boils down to a matter of methodology. If, writes Holland, Wright’s research had been “properly controlled then his contribution would be of far greater value than it has been” (pp. 19–20).

Chapter One is a sketch of some of the work done since the arrival on the scene of E. P. Sanders and Wright (James Dunn is curiously absent). Holland reminds us of the well-know rise of the historical-critical method, originating actually at the turn of the seventeenth century into the eighteen, not the nineteenth.[ii] No doubt, he is correct that the tendencies of the Enlightenment contributed massively to the erosion of the trustworthiness of the Bible as a whole. It is also accurate that certain Jewish documents had been known for centuries before the discovery of the Qumran texts, and it was the unearthing of these materials that spearheaded the current fascination with the historical setting of the NT itself. It is also factual that Wright, despite some reservations, aligned himself with Sanders’ contention that 2TJ was not legalistic and that “covenantal nomism” is an accurate depiction of the Judaism of the era. Additionally, it is true enough that Wright has offered a reassessment of the place of justification in Paul’s theology. For him, justification is not about soteriology, but rather has to do with the identity of the people of God. Elsewhere, I have addressed this aspect of Wright’s understanding of justification. If I may relay that observation:

. . . Wright has constructed a seemingly false dichotomy between the identity of the people of God and salvation. It is closer to the mark to say that Galatians does have to do with entrance into the body of the saved, meaning that to belong to the new covenant is to belong to the community of the saved.[iii]

Holland does acknowledge that Wright’s research into the Jewishness of Paul’s theology has opened up many interesting and valuable insights, which have resulted in an appreciation of his work by the scholarly community. Indeed, “Much of what Wright has written is excellent. He has helped Christians to see the importance of the OT for interpreting the NT” (p. 34). The bulk of Wright’s work, as Holland concedes, has assured many that he is a trustworthy teacher of the church and that the early suspicions respecting justification have evaporated. It would seem, however, that there is a downside to all this: “The consequence of this theological movement is that many no longer think that the Reformers are reliable authorities for guiding the 21st century church” (p. 35).

Chapter Two endeavors to probe Paul and his political identity. The gist of the chapter is that Holland thinks that Wright has overblown Paul’s relationship to the likes of Elijah and Phinehas, “zealots” for the cause of Israel. “Wright’s claim that Saul was a zealot significantly impacts the way in which he interprets Paul and his spiritual journey; it is the foundation of much of what Wright thinks explains the apostle’s motives and message” (p. 42).

The question is posed whether Paul would have chosen a “liberal” mentor, Gamaliel, if he were himself were of a much more “conservative” disposition. “Would a zealot deliberately put himself under such a teacher when their theologies would have been so very difference” (p. 43). The comeback, I would say, is provided by Wright, as acknowledge by Holland. The former cites the example of Rabbi Akiba, who broke with his teacher, Nehunya, over his pacifistic commitment. Holland, however, avers that the analogy is invalid because Akiba broke with his teacher only after leaving his school and that, for Wright, Paul became a disciple of Gamaliel whilst disagreeing with him (p. 44). Yet Holland himself, in citing correspondence with David Instone-Brewer, has to acknowledge that there is a dearth of information relating to how ancient Jewish students chose their teachers—“the answer is far from decisive” (p. 46). Be that as it may, it does not follow that Saul was a “practising zealot” at the time of his attachment to Gamaliel (p. 49); the break could have occurred later. Given the rise of a theology of zeal at this juncture in Jewish history,[iv] it would not at all be surprising that Paul was caught up in the movement and chose to discontinue some of his former associations. On the contemporary scene, students can (and do) chose teachers or thesis supervisors who can be quite at variance with their personal convictions. In the modern era, the likes of Käsemann and Bornkamm broke radically with their teacher, Bultmann, over the question of the historical Jesus. In brief, the appeal to the manner in which students would have selected a teacher proves nothing in itself. If I may draw on personal experience, I chose to study with James Dunn at Durham, even though our positions on Scripture and Christology vary appreciably.

Holland seems especially concerned to deny that Saul of Tarsus was a “zealot” in any meaningful sense. “Of course, Saul would have held political views, but they were most unlikely to have been the views of the zealots.” Not only does this line of reasoning beg the question, it simply disregards the “theology of zeal” that commenced with OT persons such as Elijah and Jehu. Phinehas (Num 25:7–8 = Ps 106:30–31) is mentioned, but it is completely overlooked that Mattathias, in the Second Temple Period, was modeled on Phinehas. According to 1 Macc 2:19–26:

But Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice: “Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to do his commandments, departing each one from the religion of his fathers, yet I and my sons and my brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.” When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice upon the altar in Modein, according to the king’s command. When Mattathias saw it, be burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him upon the altar. At the same time he killed the king’s officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar. Thus he burned with zeal for the law, as Phinehas did against Zimri the son of Salu.

The sons of Mattathias, not surprisingly, perpetuated this tradition of zeal, as related by 1 and 2 Maccabees.[v] It was the first-century Zealots who modeled themselves on the likes of Elijah, Phinehas, Jehu and Mattathias.[vi]

Because Holland refuses to read Paul historically in his own Sitz im Leben, effectively he has constructed a “Docetic” Paul, one who effectively had very little contact with the actual world in which he lived. Moreover, the assertion that Palestinian Judaism was pacifistic (p. 50) is contradicted, among others, by Hengel’s Zealots and Jacob Neusner’s study.[vii] As both demonstrate, Josephus considered the Pharisees to be a political party with some clout in the first century, although later they evolved into a pietistic movement. The Pharisees, as confirmed by Acts 9:1–2, would have been entirely sympathetic with the Zealot resistance of anything considered to be Anti-Judaism.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

It was just the Pharisees who likened Jesus to the reprobate son of Deut 21:18–21 (Matt 11:17–19), who was to be put to death and whose body was to be affixed to a tree, to which we may add that the mob demanding his crucifixion was hardly pacifistic.

It is demonstrable from the Gospels that the Pharisees (and other groups) exerted as much pressure as feasible on the Roman authorities; and it is virtually inconceivable that Saul would have been unaffected by the turbulent times in which he lived. Such considerations lead Hengel to conclude that although the Pharisaic Jew was not necessarily closely connected with the Zealot movement of Judas of Galilee, nevertheless for God’s cause and the hallowing of the law, he was prepared to use force, if necessary, even to the point of killing the lawbreaker. This was an attitude that was “very popular in contemporary Judaism.” As he continues, “The best modern paradigm for this atmosphere is present-day Islamic fundamentalism with its theocratic ideals, which causes us so much concern today.” In a nutshell, “Paul’s ‘zeal,’ which made him a persecutor, is thus directed against what in his eyes were severe transgressions of the law, of which Stephen, too, was accused.”[viii]

Next in the chapter comes another specious argument, viz., that a “zealous” Saul would never have done the bidding of a high priest who was “a notorious stooge of the Roman Emperor” (p. 51). But the answer is obvious enough. Whether a zealot or not, Saul was still obliged to work within the system of the Jewish State and of necessity had to cooperate with its authorities. His compliance with the high priest simply reflects the necessity of working through the appropriate channels. The high priest’s approval and/or commissioning was standard procedure in such cases.

In pursuing “Zealot Claims and Roman Citizenship,” Holland postulates that a “zealous” Paul would have been obliged to renounce his status as a Roman citizen. In so doing, he constructs the proverbial “straw man” that turns out to be a caricature of Wright, not a fair representation. “To say that a zealot, jealous for his country, and fanatical about the independence of Israel, would turn up meekly every five years to ensure that he continued to enjoy the benefits of being a Roman citizen is to ask us to accept something that is several steps beyond credibility!” But again, a response is readily at hand. In order to be zealous for Israel, it was not at all necessary for Saul to forego his Roman citizenship and later take it up again. He could well have registered with the government every five years and still have harbored antagonism toward Roman oppression and worked toward an eventual end to Roman rule. As a contemporary example, citizens of any given country can (and do) take umbrage at the government without renouncing their citizenship. So, this is hardly a serious problem for Wright’s “construction” (p. 52). Holland’s entire line of reasoning is a non sequitur.

Finally in this chapter, Holland is at pains to establish that Saul the Pharisee was not a Zealot in the technical sense of an insurrectionists against Rome. In point of fact, it makes very little difference whether the pre-Christian Paul was formally a member of any anti-Roman faction. Given the entire atmosphere of first-century Palestine, one stemming from the Maccabean era, he would have fit right into mindset of resistance. Holland’s own problems are compounded by the distinction entailed in the phrase “political zealot” (p. 56). There simply was no hard-and-fast distinction between “religion” and “politics” in the ancient world generally and certainly not in ancient Palestine; the two always went hand-in-hand. Additionally, the citation of Gal 1:13–14, if anything, places Paul squarely in the tradition of Maccabean zeal for the law, in spite of Holland’s simple assertion that such was not the case (p. 57). That “Paul links his esteemed status in Judaism with his persecution of the church” (p. 57) fits hand-in-glove with the Zealot agenda of eliminating any and all opposition to “the traditions of the fathers.” It falls flat to maintain that Paul’s persecution of the church consisted not in killing but in bringing Christians to stand trial. One wonders what would have been the penalty imposed on those who were perceived to have betrayed Israel. If I bring to the fore something submitted earlier:

With the passage of time, particularly given the Syrian and Roman conquests of Palestine, “Judaism” became synonymous with “zeal for the law” and an implacable nationalism that was prepared to deal harshly with even an apparent usurpation of power over the law and the temple. For this reason, Paul’s subsequent struggle against circumcision and the law was not least a “betrayal of Judaism” in the eyes of his Judaistic opponents because of its “ethnic political consequences” (Hengel, Judaism, 1.307–8).[ix]

If I may put it bluntly, Holland’s resistance of such phenomena as these is a denial of the obvious.

Chapter Three endeavors to probe Paul and his theological Identity. In so doing, Holland delves into one of Paul’s theological antecedents, viz., Isaiah’s Suffering Servant. Holland shows how the OT understanding of the role of the servant is thoroughly embedded in the concept of covenant, and thus it should not be confused with a Greco-Roman concept of servant or slave. Holland proceeds from a narrative substructure guided by OT motifs. He demonstrates clearly enough how Paul alludes to Isa 49:8 and 52:11 in 2 Cor 6:1–2, thus making it evident that “Paul saw his own ministry as that of a servant of the new covenant, just as Moses, Isaiah, and the nation of Israel were servants in the old covenant” (p. 68). Furthermore, Paul never saw his sufferings as unique to his apostolic calling; rather, they were part of his life as a Christian, as one who fills up “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body” (Col 1:24).

Holland concludes the chapter with a treatment of Christ’s sufferings and that of Christians. Since the NT church understood itself as the servant of God, as Christ is the servant of God, the early church wanted to ensure that Christ’s vicarious suffering was unique to him. In this regard, Holland maintains that the servant motif challenges Wright’s claim that Paul was a zealot: “We need to ask if Saul saw himself as a zealot in the way that Wright has claimed. Is it possible that a man burning with such anger and hatred could change in a matter of hours and without any theological instruction to help him see how wrong he had been in his previous understanding?” (p. 76). My comeback is that indeed a man burning with such anger and hatred could change in a matter of hours and see how wrong he had been previously, if he was knocked on the ground, blinded and left in the darkness to contemplate his life and beliefs in view of these events and all the other events to which he had been witness. Holland’s reasoning in this regard is tenuous, to say the least, and entirely rooted in presuppositions.

In Chapter Four, Holland challenges the notion that Paul’s Judaism had already been thoroughly Hellenized, engaging with Hengel’s Judaism and Hellenism: Studies in Their Encounter in Palestine During the Early Hellenistic Period (London: SCM, 1974). Holland states that Hengel’s widely accepted proposal should not go unchallenged. He admits that first-century Judaism had been Hellenized but claims that there could still be individuals who resisted the widespread cultural influence. Therefore, he maintains, Paul’s writings come from an exclusively Hebraic perspective. It is conceded that Paul draws on some elements Hellenistic culture: he writes in the Greek language and in keeping with Greco-Roman epistolary structure and current writing style. But, Holland argues, there is a enormous difference between making use of cultural norms of the prevailing culture and using the literature and its presupposition in various disciplines to build his theological models.

Holland goes on to illustrate the implications of his claim, starting with a description of Paul’s “new exodus theology.” For him, this theme is a key substructure for Paul, and it is a theme that is often obscured by references to Greco-Roman rather than Jewish culture. Holland claims that Wright “has failed to see just how pervasive the paradigm is” (p. 103). He goes on to show how a key subtheme in the exodus narrative is the marital theme: the exodus is the occasion where Yahweh is joined covenantally with his people, much like a marriage. Holland then shows how the combination of these two motifs allows for a deeper understanding of the role of the law for the believer. For Holland, the law was a wedding gift given to Israel (p. 131). The role of the Torah was to bring Israel to her bridegroom. In and of itself, this conclusion is sound enough:

This was the antitype of the great exodus type, the fulfillment of the Passover type, the time of Israel’s marriage to Yahweh and the feast when Israel was united with Moses and he became their representative. In this antitype that Paul has followed, the entire remnant community, which included all believing Jews and gentiles, slaves and free, male and female, were united with Christ as he died. This was not only the moment of unity through death but also through marriage for she was being cleansed to become Christ’s bride. (p. 130).

On balance, I would agree with Holland in this assessment. Paul’s actual theological milieu was informed by “classic Judaism,” not Greco-Roman Hellenism. No doubt, this Hellenism had made inroads into first-century Palestine, as witnessed by the fact that the high priestly cast (mainly identified with the Sadducees) was in the “hip pocket” of Rome. The qualification, however, is that such a consideration hardly does any real damage to Wright’s overall model.

Chapter Five endeavors to further support to Holland’s general claims in chapter 4. In essence, What would it look like to read the New Testament being thoroughly convinced that Paul was indeed a “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil 3:5)? Holland proceeds to provide a systematic investigation of the Pauline themes or metaphors that seem the most Greco-Roman: military procession imagery (2 Cor 2:14–17), Christian armor imagery (Eph 6:10–20), anthropological tripartite language (1 Thess 5:23–24), and the Greek games (1 Cor 9:24–27). For every supposed reference to Greco-Roman culture, Holland provides counterarguments for potential OT references. Especially in 2 Corinthians, the exodus/pilgrimage imagery makes much more sense in the structure of the letter. In this regard, he correctly cautions against an uncritical acceptance of Greco-Roman antecedents in Paul.

In chapter Six, Holland attempts a broadside against the current use of Second Temple literature in biblical studies. He begins with a reference to Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), drawing on Hays’ seven criteria for recognizing intertextuality between the OT and NT. These seven criteria provide guidelines for determining echoes and allusions of the OT in the NT, with the caution that students should avoid “parallelomania” (Samuel Sandmel). Holland then observes that there are no corresponding criteria for detecting echoes or allusions to Second Temple literature. As it relates to Wright, Holland notes that the presence of one word, or even a string of words, found in both the intertestamental literature and Paul is insufficient to allow Wright to utilize these texts as supporting evidence for his views concerning the teachings of the primitive apostolic church. Holland is clear that some engagement with Second Temple literature is legitimate, but his concern is that Wright and others tend to use it as a “theological Rosetta stone” rather than an occasional cultural resource.

Holland forwards two major considerations to support his case. First, the date, occasion, authorship and overall culture details behind Second Temple documents are quite ambiguous. There is great danger in ascribing similarity between texts that could be proved to be erroneous in the next generation, as per Bultmann’s connection between the NT and Gnosticism. Second, as John Barclay has demonstrated, Second Temple literature is extremely diverse, and any alleged connection between themes needs significant nuance to produce any kind of theological fruit (Paul and the Gift [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015]).[x] By way of qualification, he does make clear that his problem is not that Second Temple literature is used in biblical studies but rather the way in which it is used. He maintains that this literature is helpful in providing a context for broader cultural issues but contends that the help they offer is limited. The complaint is that Wright does not just glean from Second Temple documents from time to time. Rather, he weaves ideas from extra-biblical literature into the biblical story line.”

Again, legitimate hermeneutical issues are raised. It is true enough that Second Temple literature has to be sifted through and that conclusions must be drawn with care. However, to assert that Wright and others have used these sources as a “theological Rosetta stone” misunderstands the methodology at stake and, once more, constructs a “Docetic Paul” who had very little contact with his own history and current place with the Judaism of this era. Holland’s Paul is simply out of touch with his own world.

Chapter Seven applies the same overall critique to Wright’s Christology. For Holland, Wright’s Christology is wrongfully (mis)informed by 4 Maccabees. Holland rightly points out that the primary festal tradition of the book of 4 Maccabees is Hanukkah, which is rather absent from the Gospels: “If [Hanukkah] is the key to understanding Jesus’ mindset, then it has to be asked why this feast was not chosen by Jesus to illustrate the meaning of his coming death? Instead, he explained his death and its significance right in the centre of the Passover celebration” (p. 241).

Furthermore, continues Holland, Wright’s Christology looks too similar to that of the secular historians who adopt an evolutionary model of Jesus’ self-awareness. In Wright’s own words, “Jesus did not . . . ‘know that he was God’ in the same way that one knows one is male or female, hungry or thirsty, or that one ate an orange an hour ago. His ‘knowledge’ was of a more risky, but perhaps more significant, sort: like knowing that one is loved.”[xi] Upon read this myself some years ago, I was struck with the manner of expression, and certainly I would have phrased it otherwise. Nevertheless, Jesus’ knowledge was limited in certain regards (e.g., Mark 5:31; 13:32), and such considerations should have tempered Holland’s appraisal. Additionally, Holland concedes that Wright is “a committed Trinitarian” (p. 193), which should have taken into account before pronouncing that the latter has adopted an evolutionary model of Jesus’ self-awareness.

In pursuing the connection between Jesus as “firstborn” and “redeemer,” Holland is on solid enough ground. His analysis is supported by the four “hymns” in the NT: Col 1:13–20; Phil 2:6–10; Heb 1:3–6; Rev 1:5–18. Holland’s contention that the Passover contains an atoning element through the connection of “firstborn” and “redeemer” is plausible enough. However, as before, none of this militates against Wright’s essential premises.

Chapter Eight embraces Paul’s doctrine of the atonement. Holland begins with a summary of Wright’s view as well as briefly touching on the work of others, such as Leon Morris. As before Holland is at pains to pin Wright’s position of the atonement to 4 Maccabees. It is fair enough that there are differences between the Gospels and documents such as 4 Maccabees, and that Jesus’ death is represented by the former as an atonement for sin. It is also true that in 2TJ there was no notion that the Messiah would die as a substitute for the sins of Israel. However, Holland has belabored the connection with 4 Maccabees in particular, while glossing over the martyr passages of 1 and 2 Maccabees. That said, it is also true, as Holland contends, there is an atoning aspect to the exodus or Passover. I would agree that there is a clear echo of the original Passover in Rom 3:25. The chapter concludes with a discussion of OT antecedents to the theme of resurrection on the third day.

Chapter Nine centers on the NPP debate and the controversy surrounding Wright. Holland primarily critiques Wright for his covenantal definition of justification, which he summarizes in three parts. First, justification is not about how one was made right with God, but about being declared to be in the right with God because of being in the covenant. Second, God the Judge acquits the guilty not because of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness but because of the believer’s right standing in the covenant. Third, there is an eschatological dimension to justification, when Israel will be declared to be God’s people before all the nations of the earth. To sum up, Wright views justification as an ecclesiological, not a soteriological, doctrine; it is about recognizing who is acceptable within the covenant, not about how to get into the covenant.

Holland lodges three major critiques of Wright’s view of justification. First, he has either misunderstood or misrepresented the Reformers’ arguments. Second, Holland claims that Wright has suggested a false dichotomy between Paul’s focus on the corporate body of Christ and individual benefits given to the believer. Wright frequently complains that Pauline scholars are too prone to focus on the individual, where Paul focused on the collective. For Wright, the corporate nature of Paul’s theology eliminates the possibility of a soteriologically focused justification. In contrast, Holland points out that Wright sometimes misses some elements of Paul’s corporate focus. Yet, for Holland, none of this focus eliminates individual blessings of salvation. Third, Holland believes that Wright has placed far too much emphasis on 4QMMT in his understanding of justification. He argues that Wright has committed a major transgression of hermeneutic practice by allowing the phrases common to both 4QMMT and Galatians to shape Wright’s understanding of justification.

In principle, one may agree with Holland that Second Temple sources are to be employed with discretion. But in the case of 4QMMT, Paul’s famous phrase “works of the law” is enlightened considerably by this document from the Scrolls. Holland’s denial of its significance betrays a myopic reading of NT texts, as though they could isolated from the milieu of 2TJ. Moreover, and perhaps not surprisingly, Holland has ignored Dunn’s treatment of 4QMMT in The New Perspective on Paul (rev. ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 339–45.

Thereafter, Holland turns to his own positive construction of Paul’s doctrine of justification. In so doing, he proposes nine meanings for the term “justify:” (1) the acquittal of sin; (2) the imputation of righteousness; (3) the declaration that a person is in the covenant; (4) the creation of a covenant; (5) justification ratification; (6) the deliverance and justification of Israel; (7) the justification of the Gentiles; (8) the justification of God; and (9) the justification of the divine marriage.

All of this is fair enough—apart from imputation, which, of course, is a mainstay of Puritan/Reformed theology. Whether such a category is actually present in the Hebrew Bible or the NT is certainly open to challenge. I have addressed the issue elsewhere and have drawn contrary conclusions.[xii] A review of this sort can hardly engage the debate in any detail. However, it should be pointed out that the Heidelberg Catechism purposely took issue with the Westminster Confession on the matter of imputation. We are led to ask, Which one is Reformed: Heidelberg or Westminster? The answer, I should think, is that the category “Reformed” is broad enough to allow for divergence of conviction. I might add that Wesley rejected imputation because of its cold and impersonal nature. With that I would concur.

Holland devotes the next two chapters endeavoring to showcase his methodology, in which he takes conceptual approach. He examines not only at texts that include the word “justification” but also at texts that include related themes. Once again, one may agree with a great deal of the presentation, but, at the same time, there is hardly anything in it devastating to Wright.

The conclusion of the book returns to Wright’s methodology and, among other things, weighs the invective that Wright’s historical realism is nothing other than a rewritten history in which Jesus has been deeply influenced by the Maccabean exploits and claims, which, Holland maintains, is not critical realism but historical surrender. Moreover, Wright’s version of critical realism is only possible by closing one’s mind to the issues that have been raised in his book. Those who follow Wright’s methodology, without having his confessional underpinning, will be in danger of even more fanciful exegesis than that which he has followed, one which will lead them away from their intended theological home. In leveling these criticisms, Holland simply resorts to sniping from an entrenched position. The tone is aggressive and the comebacks to Wright stem from a set of presuppositions that, to some of us at least, are exegetically unfounded.



[i] A very similar volume appeared the same year as Holland’s: Robert J. Cara, Cracking the Foundation of The New Perspective on Paul: Covenantal Nomism Versus Reformed Theology (Reformed, Exegetical and Doctrinal Studies; London: Mentor [Christian Focus Publications], 2017. I have reviewed Cara at Many of the criticisms of Cara pertain to Holland as well.

[ii] Among many, see Werner Geog Kümmel, The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of Its Problems (Nashville: Abingdon, 1970).

[iii] Don Garlington, An Exposition of Galatians: A Reading From the New Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2007), 9.

[iv] Cf. my ‘The Obedience of Faith’: A Pauline Phrase in Historical Context (WUNT 2/38; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1991) [rep. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009]), 46–47, 112–14, 119–20, 145–46, 248–49. Holland, for some reason, ignores Martin Hengel, The Zealots: Investigations into the Jewish Freedom Movement in the Period from Herod I until 70 A.D. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1989), and only twice does he even mention Hengel’s Judaism and Hellenism: Studies in Their Encounter in Palestine During the Early Hellenistic Period (London: SCM, 1974).

[v] See my Obedience of Faith, 111–14. Holland does not even interact with basic sources like W. F. Farmer, IDB 4.936–39, let alone Hengel, Zealots.

[vi] See, among many, Hengel, Zealots; Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987); Richard A. Horsley and John S. Hanson, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985); Andrea M. Berlin and J. Andrew Overman, eds., The First Jewish Revolt: Archaeology, History, and Ideology (London: Routledge, 2002).

[vii] Jacob Neusner, From Politics to Piety: The Emergence of Pharisaic Judaism (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1973). Both volumes are among the numerous omissions in Holland’s book. Though noted in the index, Holland could have devoted at least some attention to Stephen Anthony Cummins, Paul and the Crucified Christ in Antioch: Maccabean Martyrdom and Galatians 1 and 2 (SNTSMS 114; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

[viii] Martin Hengel, The Pre-Christian Paul (London: SCM, 1991), 71. Relevant also are Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer, Paul Between Damascus and Antioch: The Unknown Years (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1997).

[ix] Garlington, Galatians, 81. See the entire discussion of pp. 79–85.

[x] I have reviewed Barclay in Bulletin for Biblical Research 26 (2016): 606–8.

[xi] Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 653.

[xii] Garlington, Studies in the New Perspective on Paul: Essays and Reviews (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008), 137-227.

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