Rethinking Romans with Tom Holland: The Divine Marriage?

Sometime back I interacted with professor Tom Holland’s Contours of Pauline Theology here, and which has surprisingly led professor Holland to give me an advance look at his forthcoming commentary on Romans, which is due this late spring early summer, from Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Professor Holland’s work will definitely be a welcome contribution to recent commentary’s on Paul’s Romans:

Why subtitle a commentary on Romans The Divine Marriage?  Mainly because the central message of the Bible has to do with the drama of God seeking out a people for himself. The Old Testament described Israel as God’s bride because she was called to a unique, personal relationship with her God.

However, Paul’s contention is that national Israel’s exclusive claim to be the bride no longer stands. The apostle’s message is that God has created a new covenant with those who believe in his Son, and that believing Jews and Gentiles have now become the true bride of God. The Jewish remnant and believing Gentiles both draw from the same divinely-appointed stock as they share the promises given by God to Abraham.

The theme of the divine marriage (which is the culmination of the new exodus) shaped and guided the letters that Paul wrote. This is especially true for the letter to the Romans, the letter of the divine marriage.

And here’s Professor Robert W. Yarbrough, of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, take on Holland’s Romans:

This vigorously argued commentary seeks to allow Old Testament themes and thought patterns, not misguided scholarly conventions, to control Romans’ message. Paul’s ministry is seen rigorously in old exodus terms; the church is the New Israel, Yahweh’s people and (along with the true Israel of old) figurative bride. Verses from the prophet Isaiah are particularly foundational. Organizationally, Holland’s treatment is strongly messianic in focus – every section of Romans is subordinated to “the Messiah King.” Scholars of Romans will be stimulated by interaction with this canonically alert, creative and frequently contrarian exposition and synthesis of a Pauline classic.

If you’re at all into Pauline studies and especially his letter to the Romans, this forthcoming commentary will make for health interaction.

And as Peter Wilkinson remarks, “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.”

Stay tuned for a full review…

Tom Holland is full time lecturer in New Testament studies, at Wales Evangelical School of Theology, Bridgend, Wales.

This entry was posted in New Perspective on Paul, Pauline, Pauline Theology, Romans, Tom Holland and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Rethinking Romans with Tom Holland: The Divine Marriage?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Rethinking Romans with Tom Holland: The Divine Marriage? | New Leaven -- Topsy.com

  2. “This vigorously argued commentary seeks to allow Old Testament themes and thought patterns, not misguided scholarly conventions, to control Romans’ message.”

    I like the sound of that. Reading the Old Testament into the New has become a habit of mine.

  3. Craig Benno says:

    This brings me back to what I have said about the method we use in reading Romans. I believe that Paul uses to distinct ways of talk in talking to two distinct audiences. To the Jews he uses the OT and Jewish terminology; to the Gentiles he uses their lingo… and then he draws them together as one.

    Take Roman’s 1 as an example. We use this as an example to rail against homosexuality; when in fact Paul is drawing on the Jewish thought that every Gentile was a homosexual… (metaphorically speaking) and is using this terminology to build bridges with them; until he pulls the rugs from under their feet in 2:1… you therefore have no excuse…yet…

    I’m not talking here whether homosexuality is a sin or not; my purpose is to engage with what Paul is really saying and how he is saying it..

  4. kenny chmiel says:

    Sounds nice, but I wonder if the belief that Old T. themes are now New T. themes is really so clean. I have a strong suspicion that the waters are a bit muddied with the dust of Paul’s own time and thought forms i.e. Hellenization? I know this is a bit out of fashion, but it does seem as if Paul would by necessity (?) have to import some of the intellectual/cultural ideas from his Roman/Greek world into his theological thought. I know Paul was a Jew, but he was also a Roman citizen and literate – in what is the question.
    All in all, I guess I’m just a little suspicious of the “purely” Jewish readings of Paul.

  5. Bobby Grow says:

    Interesting, I would’ve seen divine marriage more in line with a commentary on Ephesians or Revelation versus Romans. This kind of thinking has been around for quite awhile in the history of interpretation. Just take a look at St. Bernard, Martin Luther, Marriage Mysticism in some Puritans, Richard Sibbes, et al. I also have a post kind of sketching this approach in contrast to Federal/Juridical themes: http://evangelicalcalvinist.com/2010/01/29/the-marriage-framework-versus-the-legal-framework-as-the-frame-for-salvation/. I just wanted to highlight this in case Holland’s work might perceived to be suffering from a sense of novelty or something 🙂 .

  6. T.C. R says:

    Craig,

    I’ll have to rethink that metaphorical material in Romans 1. 😉

    Kenny,

    So Paul wasn’t primarily an interpreter of Israel’s Scripture, his own Bible? No doubt that Paul draws on his Greco-Roman world, but such was not the starting point of his theology.

    Bobby,

    It’s the church as the people of God, the bride God was seeking, composing of both Jews and Gentiles, as portrayed in Romans.

    • kenny chmiel says:

      @ TC – Yeah, he was and yes it probably was the starting point, but I just don’t know what type of theology that creates given it’s mixture with his other thoughts. It’s all is a bit confusing wouldn’t you say. I’m not trying to be intentionally difficult or skeptical but I’m a little freaked out on all the “Pauline” Paul’s that have been speaking to me these days – I’m way beyond being theologically Schizophrenic.

      • T.C. R says:

        Kenny,

        I’m not willing to admit the mixture that you see in Paul. Perhaps if you were willing to offer a few examples from Paul of what you mean, I’d be better able to see where you’re coming from.

        For example, consider how Paul understands his own ministry against the backdrop of the OT (see Romans 15; Gal. 1:11ff, and so on).

  7. Bobby Grow says:

    @TCR,

    Yeah, I get that; but I’m just thinking intratextually per the themes/motifs of Romans itself. Obviously, then, Holland operates from a canonical mode of interpretation. I would be curious, though, to see how he makes the literary connection into the epistle of Romans. In other words, I would be interested in understanding how Holland avoids artificially reading this framework into the context of Romans w/o pushing “canon-critical-interpretation” to it’s breaking point. For example, I wonder if there are actual quotes or echoes that Paul uses from the OT that explicitly appeal to marital thinking (like from Hosea); and further, if Paul does, if this provides “enough” literary context for us to read Romans through this lens? I do think Eph 5 provides this. So then I also wonder if Holland works at creating a Pauline theology of marriage prior to his exegetical work in the epistle to the Romans?

  8. T.C. R says:

    Bobby,

    Here’s a passage from Holland’s Intro. that touches some of the concerns you have:

    |[B]Covenant and the Theology of Romans

    It will be evident that the perspective I am taking in interpreting Romans presupposes a covenantal framework for Paul’s thinking. Like the issue of initiation, it would be tempting to justify this framework at the beginning of the exposition. However, this task must wait until there has been an examination of the text and the theological substructure upholding its arguments. For this reason, justification for using a covenantal framework for interpreting the letter will have to come from the evidence of the letter as a whole. What can be said is that if Paul is dependent on the new exodus model outlined earlier then the heart of his thinking is the fulfilment by God of his promises (his covenants) to Abraham and David. The new exodus theme is a very important subsection of the Old and New Testament themes of covenant and fulfilment.
    The letter to the Romans begins by introducing Jesus as the Christ who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh (Rom 1:3). The theme of salvation, promised by the prophets (Rom 1:2), is heavily covenantal in that the promises were all part of the covenant. Clear echoes of the theme of righteousness as found in Isaiah come through in Rom 1:17. This righteousness, or saving response from Yahweh toward his people, was the hallmark of the prophet.
    In chapter 2, there is discussion about the true Jew. While he was not circumcised in the flesh but in the heart (Rom 2:28-29), circumcision was at the “heart” of the Old Testament covenant and without it no one could claim to be a member of the covenant community.
    Chapter 3 has distinct echoes of the Passover event (Rom 3:21-25) which inaugurated Israel as the people of God under the Mosaic covenant.
    Chapter 4 returns to covenant community membership. We will see that the passage has a significant corporate perspective, dealing with the status of Gentiles in relation to the law and its demands. Whatever position is taken, it is beyond dispute that the covenant is embedded in the argument to such an extent that the chapter cannot make sense without the recognition of its significance, purpose, and role.
    The same is true of chapter 5. The argument for two communities–one in Adam and one in Christ–can only be made in the light of federal headship and covenant.
    We find covenantal themes in chapter 6 with the church being baptized into Christ’s death and sharing his life through being raised with him. Some have recognized the exodus imagery which throbs behind the letter’s teaching, and with that imagery all the ideas of covenant flood into the passage.
    Chapter 7, with its presentation of someone who is battling with the law, does not exclude the fact that the law for any Jew is covenant law. This is confirmed in the opening verses where the imagery speaks of being married to the law. Marriage is nothing if it is not covenantal.
    Chapter 8 is about the community’s experience of the Spirit and, again, its reading requires a covenantal context. The Spirit’s presence was one of the distinctive blessings promised to the new covenant community by the prophets.
    Chapters 9, 10, and 11 are so widely recognized as being about the issue of covenant membership that their reliance on covenant assumptions does not need to be defended.
    This brief overview of the theological section of Paul’s letter to the Romans suggests that it should be read in a covenantal framework. Its covenantal argument will be worked out in detail as we engage with its text.|

    Marriage as a covenant becomes the controlling theme here.

    • Bobby Grow says:

      Thanks TCR. From what you’ve shared here, I don’t think I’m buying the “marriage” frame from as the over-riding metaphor through which to read Romans. In other words, I don’t see how we skip from covenant=marriage; other than by assertion on Holland’s part. Covenant was made by shedding blood; marriage within the Covenant was made by pronouncement. They seem to be two distinct, yet related things.

  9. T.C. R says:

    Bobby,

    So you don’t accept the main thrust of the NT as God seeking out a bride for himself? If you do accept this, then there’s no denying this in Romans.

    • Bobby Grow says:

      No, I do accept the broader framework for bridal language; but I think we have to look elsewhere beyond Romans to establish or realize this framework. So in a sense it seems weird to say that Romans (alone) is saying this. In other words, based on my limited exposure to Holland, it seems like there is a confusion of the “part” for the “whole.” So the “part” (Romans) speaks from the “whole” (OT/NT), but the “part” is not the “whole;” I wonder if that makes sense?

      So for example let’s say Holland does a biblical theology of “marriage;” it seems to me that this idea, canonically, would be construed before we ever get to Romans. And that we would have to read Romans from this; we wouldn’t read “this theology” of marriage from Romans, explicitly. Based on what you shared from Holland, I would need to see how he creates a link between “Covenant” and “Marriage;” from what I’ve read thus far it just seems like he says they’re the same thing, but then why not read “Body” (as a Pauline metaphor) into Covenant? That’s what I’m trying to understand with Holland. By the way, I don’t see marital language in the Bible as “metaphor,” but as an ontological reality (as sure is Jesus is the Son of the Father by the Holy Spirit). I wonder if that’s what Holland might say?

      • kenny chmiel says:

        Bobby, marriage has to be a “metaphor” instead of a “ontological reality” since I don’t really remember having a “literal” wedding with the trinity in Vegas. Ontological reality means what? I ask this not being a jerk but I’m really seriously curious, since I have thought about this idea over and over and can’t get what it means.

      • Bobby Grow says:

        Kenny,

        I would say that human marriage is a picture/metaphor for the ontological reality that takes place between Christ and His bride. So a real union, with the real Christ, who is the real Son of the real Father, by the real Holy Spirit. That’s the way I’m conceiving of ontological reality; something that God has said is, and thus is so.

  10. T.C. R says:

    Bobby,

    Fair enough. Again, this is Holland’s thesis from the Preface:

    |The Old Testament described Israel as God’s bride because she was called to a unique, personal relationship with her God.

    However, Paul’s contention is that national Israel’s exclusive claim to be the bride no longer stands. The apostle’s message is that God has created a new covenant with those who believe in his Son, and that believing Jews and Gentiles have now become the true bride of God.|

    But of course this becomes the topic of Romans 9-11, with covenant language and even Hosea being featured.

    Well, we’ll have to disagree with marriage as a metaphor on the basis of a text like Isaiah 54:5 and the fact that Yahweh often charges Israel of adultery because of her idolatry.

    • Bobby Grow says:

      TC, to be clear, I’m not denying the marriage stuff — it’s all over in the OT (and NT) — ironically, Romans is one of the Epistles’ that seems less explicit; of course I suppose if one does their homework on the quotes that Paul uses throughout Romans marriage does indeed come up.

      Anyway, just trying to think this through; w/o having the ability to do so with the whole picture provided by Holland. Thanks for being patient with me, TCR! 🙂

      • T.C. R says:

        Bobby,

        I agree that in explicit terms it’s not there as in an Ephesians 5 text. But nonetheless, as you noted, it’s there, that is, if we agree on a definition or nuance of the thing. 😉

      • Bobby Grow says:

        Now I suppose I’ll have to read Holland’s work. Thanks TC, just what I need, another book to read 😉 !

  11. ScottL says:

    TC –

    I am not sure these words of Holland are the complete picture: Mainly because the central message of the Bible has to do with the drama of God seeking out a people for himself.

    This doesn’t sounds in line with the NPP, and I believe you see the NPP as solid theology. I might say the main focus of Scripture is the story of God bringing his rule on earth as it is in heaven. In doing so, he calls a bride-people to himself, who also participate in seeing the kingdom come. But that is a ‘sub-point’ to the bigger picture of the kingdom coming to redeem all of creation.

    But, if Yarbrough’s words are true – Organizationally, Holland’s treatment is strongly messianic in focus – every section of Romans is subordinated to “the Messiah King.” – then I think we have some good stuff here.

  12. Craig Benno says:

    T.C.
    While I agree there is the marriage metaphor throughout the scriptures; there are also many other metaphors to contend with…

    Father / child.
    Mother / child
    Hen / chickens
    Warrior / defenceless
    Friend / friend
    Enemy / foe
    Husband / wife
    Master / servant
    Root / vine

    I think the metaphor of marriage as a whole can be dangerous within a pastoral setting within the church. The metaphor of marriage has been used so much and to an extreme that the marriage bond / covenant has been said to reflect the Trinitarian relationship… this places single people of any kind at a disadvantage within the church…

  13. kenny chmiel says:

    @ TC

    If I give examples it wouldn’t really prove much, since what I’m trying to get at is the “tacit” foundation/information of Paul’s thought instead of the “explicit” and therefore the “mixture” with Greek thought for Paul, I’m assuming would lay lower in his consciousness and then inform his theology, this is harder to give an example for, since one could just explain it (the example) away by the Major theme they employ to explain everything in the book.

    I know this is chasing the rabbit down the rabbit hole and I should just pick a position on Paul and find his “center” but there are just so many to choose from. I guess that’s my point. Really, I blame it on the scholars for the amount of diverse voices and interesting perspectives.

    I like the Marriage idea, the Covenant idea, the union in Christ idea, the justification idea, the glory of god idea, the material spirit idea and on and on. How this all works is not clear. I remember I thought that after I did the Greek exegesis of Romans class in seminary it would all become clear, like learning some magic spell, alas that wasn’t the case.

    The question for me as a student, not the teacher, is what are we missing, what are we leaving out, who are we discriminating against for the neat clear/clearer idea. As a student and not a teacher, could I ask for some advice. How do you sort all this out, specifically, how did you come to hold the position on Paul that you do (if you do have a one)?

  14. T.C. R says:

    Scott L,

    Your critique is fair, for we see the final act in the drama if you will, as a realization of a Matthew 6:10 petition. And yes, Yarbrough is only working from the outline of Holland’s commentary on Romans (perhaps I should post).

    Craig,

    Of course there are other metaphors throughout. But if we think of the drama of redemption as covenantal, then the central place given to the marriage metaphor is quite in order. Consider the close of the drama per Revelation 19-22.

    And to the single person I would point them to their ultimate marriage, that union with Christ. 😉

    |therefore the “mixture” with Greek thought for Paul, I’m assuming would lay lower in his consciousness and then inform his theology…|

    Kenny,

    Fair enough. Take for example, Paul before the Areopagus, where he draws on his Greek learning but eventually comes back to Israel’s Scripture and consequently, Israel’s God, as revealed in Messiah, the one who will judge the world on that fixed day.

    | I remember I thought that after I did the Greek exegesis of Romans class in seminary it would all become clear, like learning some magic spell, alas that wasn’t the case.|

    Such should only whet the appetite. 😉

    |How do you sort all this out, specifically, how did you come to hold the position on Paul that you do (if you do have a one)?|

    May I quote your own words as a possible answer? Here we go: “Really, I blame it on the scholars for the amount of diverse voices and interesting perspectives.”

    You see, we need to diverse voice and the interesting perspectives, because such is the nature of the corpus Paul has bequeathed to us.

    • kenny chmiel says:

      Thanks T.C.
      I think I’ll eventually just build my Pauline home in the land of “Wright” anyway, since he seems the nicest/funniest of all the Pauline scholars I’ve met or read. Maybe since I live in Norway I’ll be able to meet Troels Engberg-Pedersen and see is he can convince me that his Stoic Paul is biblical. Anyway thanks for the great Blog and conversation. Looking forward to more posts. K

      • T.C. R says:

        Kenny,

        Thanks for chiming in from time to time. Good stuff! Ah, Wright is good. Well, a Troels Engberg-Pedersen serves as a good challenge.

  15. T.C. R says:

    |Now I suppose I’ll have to read Holland’s work. Thanks TC, just what I need, another book to read !|

    Bobby,

    Another book besides Torrance. 😉

  16. John says:

    I love Tom Holland’s work for the exact same reason I love the Apostle Paul . . . Holland sees the historical-redemptive fulfillment of the Old Testament covenantal patterns/paradigms in the framework of a glorious New (and promised) eschatological fulfillment . . . all converging in God’s ultimate and final revelation, Jesus Christ himself, the very New Covenant incarnated and written upon the tables of our hearts with his Spirit (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6-8, 55:3-4, John 1:14, 2 Cor. 3:3). I think Holland rightly demonstrates that Paul’s interpretive center was Christ and his governing hermeneutical approach to Scripture was picture-fulfillment. Stated simply, it means that Paul understood all of OT redemptive history, with its fleshly covenantal patterns, shadows, types, and figures, as pointing to the ultimate eschatological realization/fulfillment of Jesus Christ (Col. 2:17). In this way, Christ is the new eschatological Adam who does not lead his Bride (the Church) into sin’s bondage, but rather redeems, liberates, restores, and glorifies her. Christ is the new eschatological Moses, the mediator of the New Covenant, whom we serve, not in the way of the written code but the new way of the Spirit (Rom. 7:6). The church now comes to Mt. Zion and no longer to Mt. Sinai, with the Pentecost-event itself closely recapitulating the timeline, signs, and patterns of the Sinai-event. Christ and his Bride are the new eschatological Israel, the true offspring of Abraham, circumcised not in the foreskin of the flesh but in the heart by the Holy Spirit. Christ and his Bride are the new eschatological temple, filled with the glory and righteousness of God through the Spirit. I could go on . . . but in my humble opinion, Holland has merely scratched the surface with the picture-fulfillment trajectory of Paul’s Christ-centered eschatological theology.

    For more please see the following link:
    http://www.christmycovenant.com/content/jd1/jd1_lib1/new_exodus_in_christ.html

  17. T.C. R says:

    John,

    As I read through your comment I couldn’t help but smile in agreement. I’m truly encouraged by your weaving of all these themes together which have found their fulfillment in Christ and which Paul has so understood and consequently have interpreted Israel’s Scripture around Messiah’s death and resurrection, not least second-Isaiah. 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s