This new biblical theological commentary on Paul’s greatest letter is a most important work by a long-time lecturer at WEST. It represents the fruit of many years’ profound scholarship and familiarity not only with Paul, but with the entire Bible. This book, like his earlier Contours of Pauline Theology, will make a major contribution not only to Pauline studies, but consequently to all related areas of Christian doctrine. Dr Holland continually demonstrates the way in which Paul’s letter picks up the great themes of the Old Testament, most notably from the Exodus, Isaiah and Ezekiel. His central thesis is that Romans ought to be understood in the corporate and covenantal character which saturated Paul’s own thinking – hence the title. A Western, individualistic interpretation of Romans is inimical to its meaning and the purpose for which it was written.
There is much about this approach which is both necessary and refreshing. And yet this book is bound to generate a good deal of discussion and even controversy. The traditional Reformed and Confessional definitions of righteousness, sin, justification and faith – weighty themes, all of them, not simply in Romans but in the entire framework of Christian truth – undergo various measures of recasting in the course of Dr Holland’s exegesis. The general shift in his thinking is from legal to covenantal categories. Sin, for example, is primarily understood not as the breaking of God’s commandments, but as the forsaking of the covenant relationship with God and entering into covenant with Satan. It may well be wondered whether there is a false dichotomy here. Parallel patterns can be witnessed in Dr Holland’s treatment of the other mighty themes handled in Romans. Though he seeks to put some distance between himself and the protagonists of the New Perspective on Paul and Justification – James Dunn and N.T.Wright – the trajectory and tendency of his arguments seems rather similar in places.