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Beyond Individualism: A Radical Recovery of the New Testament's Corporate Context

By Tom Holland

Professor of New Testament and Hermeneutics, Wales Evangelical School of Theology
and author of Contours of Pauline Theology and Romans: The Divine Marriage


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Alone in a Crowd

Be it the lone-ranger cowboy taming the Wild West, the brave, hardy pioneer, or the industrious self-made millionaire—one of the most enduring images of America is that it consists of a race of self-reliant, resilient, and fiercely independent individuals.

Long before Herbert Hoover coined the phrase ‘rugged individualism’ in the 1920s, an emphasis on the interests of the individual over those of the collective society had permeated the American mindset through the Enlightenment philosophies of writers such as John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others. Indeed, the First and Second Great Awakenings’ central message was of personal salvation, and the Reformation ideals of each person’s right to read and interpret scripture was a primary import to the New World by the Pilgrim Fathers. All this and more contributed to the elevation of individualism in America and, as a similar evolution unfolded elsewhere, in Western nations as a whole.

An interesting by-product of this, particularly among Protestant assemblies, has become today an almost-exclusive focus on personal or individual faith, with only secondary attention given, if any, to the larger faith of the community of which the individual is but a part.

Of course, no one would argue with the need for individual salvation, or the value of personal scripture reading, or the significance of the part each individual plays within the believing community—would that even more experience these privileges! However, in recent years, excessive individualism has been widely recognized as a serious problem for evangelicalism. The ‘me and Jesus’ mentality that has taken root in our modern evangelical culture has weakened the fundamental and necessary relationship between the individual and the larger Christian community, giving birth to an attitude where the first question is not “what’s in it for us?” but rather “what’s in it for me?”

Upside Down in the Frying Pan

Not only does this impoverish the church, it has created a situation in which church discipline has become increasingly ineffective or neglected, leaving Christ’s body with little protection from the viral infection of soul-sickening sin. Also, as has been lamented by many, reading and interpreting scripture privately, apart from the checks and balances of community input, has opened the door to a plethora of novel, sometimes divisive interpretations, which have further undermined the health of the church. 

It is my contention that one of the most significant contributions to this individualistic mindset is our method of reading the New Testament. Traditionally, the NT letters are read as describing individual experience and morality. In reality however, I believe it can be amply proved that they speak primarilyto the community’s experience of God’s saving activity of His people as a whole and the church’s collective response to this saving event.

In other words, we’ve been putting the cart before the horse! Rather than first reading scripture through a corporate lens and then considering the individual’s role as it relates to the larger community, we’ve been doing it the other way around. This individualistic approach has led to interpretive distortions, tensions, and inconsistencies, which in many cases, could be resolved by reading scripture in light of the corporate dimension of its teaching.

I believe another controlling mindset, one embraced by most of academia as well as the church at large, has been doing the same. What I would describe as a dualistic, Hellenistic approach to interpreting scripture as it applies to the individual has distorted many aspects of doctrine and practice. Like the frog in the frying pan, we have become unaware of the extent it has altered our understanding of basic foundational truths as set forth by the Apostles those who came before. [1]

The unfortunate consequences of both these skewed interpretive frameworks are evident in the diminished life of the church, and I would have to say even in good Reformed Evangelical churches. Rediscovering the original apostolic mindset is critical not only because it will help in restoring a right understanding of the essentially communal nature of church life, but it will also lead us back to a much more balanced and authoritative doctrine of Christian salvation. 

Awakening to a Corporate Death

To understand how I came to this perspective, it may be helpful to provide a bit of personal history. I began to grapple with the issue of how the church read scripture in 1978. As a young pastor, I was anxious to get my teeth into Paul’s letter to the Romans but one thing held me back—I heard that Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the distinguished evangelical preacher, said he waited until he understood Romans before he preached from it.

The problem was that I had studied Romans in the Greek for my bachelor’s degree and submitted to the requirement to recite the views of leading scholars for exams; but in all honesty, I did not really understand the message Paul preached.  After six years in the pastorate, I was getting frustrated because I was still not able to resolve some of my fundamental questions regarding the texts.  Realizing that as much as I deeply respected Dr. Lloyd-Jones, I had fallen into the trap of living under his rubric and I determined to return to the texts themselves to thrash it out for myself. And so I began preaching through Romans on Sunday evenings.

The first five chapters passed reasonably comfortably. After all, my method was simply to study what others had said about the text, distil their insights, and make them accessible to the congregation. I discovered that not only did the commentators disagree with one another, but I also differed with most of them.

The initial problem had to do with the way Paul described baptism in the opening verses of the chapter. Of course, opinions differ over what Paul understood to happen in baptism—did he see the Spirit being given in baptism or was the Spirit uniting the one being baptized with Christ? At the time, my view of these commonly discussed issues reflected my Baptist background. Upon further scrutiny of the passage however, what caught my attention is that Paul described the event as a baptism into death.

Paul was presenting baptism as a picture of burial, and saying that we are buried (baptized) with Christ into death. A few moments of reflection will tell you that being buried alive is an abhorrent picture. Of all the burials I have performed, no one was being buried into death. Burial is the consequence of death, not the means of achieving death. I will come back to this important point shortly.

Who Is The Old Man?

The second issue that greatly concerned me was something I had struggled with long before getting my degree and continued to trouble me as a pastor—what did Paul mean when he said, ‘For we know that our old self (old man) was crucified with him so that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin’ (Romans 6:6-7).

I found this passage to be problematic for two reasons. First, the commentators I had been reading gave the distinct impression they were not clear on what exactly the phrase ‘body of sin’ meant. One traditional individualistic view is that when we are saved our spirits are individually made alive to Christ but continue to reside in a physical body, which is not inherently sinful but due to the Fall has been ‘tainted’ by or is full of sin. As the teaching goes, even though we each still have a sinful nature embedded in our bodies (NIV), being freed from sin through Christ’s death means we are no longer controlled by sin – it’s still there, but not controlling us.  

Aware that Paul was a Jew, many of the commentators were desperate to pull their interpretations back from the dualism that such explanations inevitably led too. Is the old man dead or not? Are we freed from sin or not? Often, they spent several pages telling the reader that the term was not saying that the body is in any way sinful, even though that seemed to be the inevitable logic of their explanations!

Freed or Justified?

Another problem I had was the cavalier way in which the translators and commentators played around with the text of verse 7, which literally says that 'anyone who has died has been justified (dedikaiôtai) from sin.’ Almost all translators agreed to abandon the Greek and use the word ‘freed’ because of the widely accepted belief that Paul did not intend to say 'justified’ but 'freed' since he begins his gospel with the doctrine of justification as a declared fact, and that out of this reality all other blessings and experiences flow. If he had meant that ‘anyone who has died has been justified from sin' it seemed Paul had gone against his own great gospel by saying the experience of dying with Christ rather than a declaration of an objective fact became the grounds for justification.

My high view of scripture meant that I was not at liberty to play with the clear meaning of the text. The fact is that Paul uses dedikaiôtai sixteen times, and not once has it been suggested that the meaning in these other texts is anything other than ‘justified.’ This led me to believe that the commentators had missed the point of the argument, which was not an easy conclusion to reach considering it put me at odds with the position held by virtually all translations and commentators from a whole range of theological traditions.

A Major Methodological Flaw

What does all this have to do with the rise of individualism within the church as the dominant expression of our faith in the present day?

As a result of this discovery, I became deeply concerned by the way scholars attempted to accommodate the Greek text. How could the clear lexicographical meaning be so readily abandoned? This basic concern provoked me to undertake a 30 year journey, first through prolonged personal study and then on to doctoral and post doctoral studies focusing on a concentrated examination of issues related to Paul’s hermeneutics. As I dug deep into the subject, I became increasingly persuaded that at the heart of our reading strategy is a major methodological flaw hiding much of the richness of Paul’s original arguments—we have been taught to read Paul as though he was a Jew heavily influenced by Greek Hellenism.

Reading Paul from this mindset wrenches him from the very corporate understanding of his Judaic heritage and puts him into the highly individualistic thought patterns of Hellenism. Fundamentally, over time this faulty approach has led to an overemphasis on the individual Christian experience. This has resulted in a dilution of the corporate arguments within the texts and a consequent loss of the scope of the NT doctrine of the church that was founded in the corporate nature of the OT narrative.

Seeing the Corporate

What follows is just a thumbnail supporting this contention—a more detailed discussion can be found in my book Contours of Pauline Theology. We’ll use Romans 6 as one example of a corporate reading that I hope will entice you to explore the subject further.

Returning to the concept of ‘baptism’ in Romans 6:1-4, all the explanations I was reading were symbolic rather than typological, meaning baptism was viewed as a symbol of the individual believer’s death with Christ; not their actual death, but representative of it.  Gradually however, I came to see it was typology, not symbolism that was the critical factor for understanding Paul.

Unlike a symbol, which is only a representation of a thing but not the thing in itself, a type is something actual in the past that foreshadows something else in the future. Since the whole of Romans 5 depends on a typological reading of the text to make any sense, it seemed reasonable that typology should control what follows in chapter 6. In fact, to be true to Paul, there must be solid reason(s) for abandoning this method, especially when we recall that the chapter divisions in Paul’s letters never existed.

This is consistent with Paul’s clear use of types in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 when he speaks of the Corinthians having been baptized into Christ. As the Jews were baptized into Moses, says Paul, so you have been baptized into Christ. He was not speaking of water baptism; neither was it baptism as a confession of faith, which we find elsewhere in the NT. This was an historic salvation event when the entire Jewish community—not just the Israelites of that day and age, but all generations then and since—was quite literally united with Moses in his exodus from Egypt, so making him Israel’s legal representative and her mediator before God. It was a one-time event for all concerned, for all time. This, I would suggest, sheds light on what Paul is saying in Romans 6.

Remember that previously, in chapter 5, Paul has just argued that all of humanity is united in Adam, and as a result the whole of mankind is enslaved within the kingdom of darkness. Now, in chapter 6, he explains how this new humanity, this new man, has been brought into existence through Christ’s death. According to Paul, just as God rescued the enslaved Jews in Egypt and created a covenant community through Israel’s baptism into Moses, so the new covenant community, consisting of all who have believed in Christ—past, present, and future—has been brought into existence through its baptism into Christ’s death. In this way, Paul’s argument relating to baptism is corporate in nature—it’s about the entire new covenant community’s death, burial and resurrection all at once and for all time, not of each individual one at a time.

And when did this baptism take place? In the case of the type or foreshadowing of what was to come, it was in the exodus of Moses from Egypt. In the case of Christ, it was in his exodus (not his ‘departure’ as in most translations; the Greek word is exodus) from the realm of Satan’s rule that he spoke of with Elijah and Moses in Luke 9:31. His exodus, of course, was his death. And just as all Israel then and now were baptized into Moses (1 Cor. 10:1), so the Roman believers along with the whole church then and since underwent baptism into death, the death of Christ himself. I argue elsewhere that this same corporate understanding lies behind Gal. 3:25-28, 1 Cor. 12:13 and Eph. 4:6, 5:25 (For more details see Contours chapter 7).

Our, Not Mine

How does this affect the way we understand the term ‘our old self’ in Rom. 6:6 as translated in the NIV, or ‘our old man' as in the AV (which is nearer to what the Greek signifies)? The highly individualistic interpretation that has governed the exegesis of this verse has failed to read Romans 6 out of chapter 5 where Paul sharply contrasts two opposing communities—‘the many’ in Adam versus ‘the many’ in Christ. For instance, I recall as a student reading Dodd's commentary on Romans. He pointed out that there was no way a western mind could understand the argument of chapter 5 if it did not appreciate the concept of solidarity so fundamental to the Semitic mindset. However, after exegeting the chapter, he immediately turned to his own western mindset when he interpreted chapter 6 and indeed the rest of the letter as primarily about he individual believer! Unfortunately, this is a frequent and almost universal mistake.

Additional support for a corporate reading of Paul’s letters is found in his use of the plural ‘our’ as the modifying possessor of the singular ‘old self’ or ‘old man.’ If he had intended an individual application, it is logical to presume he would have made his object plural (e.g. old selves or old men) as he does in Rom. 6:13, but he does not.

Furthermore, in the light of the corporate emphasis of Romans 5, surely we have to accept that it would also be reasonable to test whether the term ‘body of sin’ in Rom. 6:6 carries a corporate or individual meaning. I contend that the corporate, in fact, is what Paul means. He is not saying that we die to our own individual human nature, our personal humanity; rather, he is saying that we have been rescued from a community held captive by darkness, the singular ‘body of sin'. This rescue is on the basis of the union of the entire community then and now  that was created with Christ in his death.

One scholar who would have no difficulty in what I am proposing is T.W. Manson who was a professor of theology at Cambridge. He questioned the traditional assumption that in the phrase 'body of sin,' the term 'of sin' is descriptive of quality. He argued that this "does not yield a very good sense," and took it instead to be a descriptor of possession or belonging to, saying, "It is perhaps better to regard ‘the body of sin' as the opposite of ‘the body of Christ.’” As he goes on to explain, rather than referring to our individual, physical bodies, ‘the body of sin’ is “the mass of unredeemed humanity in bondage to the evil power. Every conversion means that the body of sin loses a member and the body of Christ gains one." [2]

This proposed corporate reading not only identifies what the body of sin is, it also explains why Paul used dedikaiôtai in Rom. 6:7 for that which has been justified (freed) from sin. The argument is not at the level of individual experience but that of the experience of the community and the term 'justified' therefore is essentially relational. The term speaks of Christ’s 'innocence' in taking those who were once members of the body of sin, these former citizens of the Kingdom of darkness, as his bride. In other words, Rom. 7:1-4 is an illustration that sums up the argument in chapters 5 and 6.

A corporate reading also helps make sense of Paul’s plea to the Romans not to yield their members as instruments of unrighteousness (Rom. 6:13). Read at the corporate level, the passage is an appeal to the community to discipline those who continue to live as though they were still members of the body of sin. Also, the conclusion of the chapter, which states that ‘the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life,’ is considered by some to be modeled on Moses' exhortation to the Jews to choose life. (Deut. 30:15-20) The OT passage the verse is based on is an appeal to the community to follow Yahweh rather than a call to the individual.

The Author’s Intent

But is reading scripture from a corporate perspective just an attempt at being novel? I believe it would have been natural to the NT church for the following reasons:

  • The early church was not made up of professional theologians but Paul’s use of the OT clearly shows he anticipates that his readers can follow him. His letters are driven by texts presented in their OT theological context. This suggests that the mindset of the recipients was well tuned to OT theology.
  • In the OT model, the prophets rarely addressed individuals. When they did, it was normally to representative figures of the nation, warning them of the consequences of their leadership. In other words, the OT set the pattern for scripture to be understood as a primarily corporate message.
  • We see the same pattern in the Dead Sea Scrolls in that they addressed the community rather than the individual. Such evidence points to the likelihood this was normative for the Jewish communities. In other words, Israel was used to reading and thinking corporately and this mentality was the cradle of the Christian message. It is in fact, not only the Jewish community that wrote this way. Studies have been done that show this was typical of the ancient world.
  • The Synagogue reading of the scriptures was normative for Second Temple Judaism and these scriptures described God's dealing with his people, not the individuals per se. The NT church was clearly influenced by the Synagogue pattern of worship and with it, the Jewish way in which its sacred texts were heard and interpreted.
  • Paul wrote his letters to the church, unless of course, they were personal letters to individuals such as Philemon, Timothy or Titus. Since there were no printing presses or photocopy services, these letters could not be copied and distributed for private reading. Their message could only be communicated as the congregation came together and they were read aloud. In other words, the very delivery was to the community and not to the individual.
  • In light of the above discussion, it would appear Paul’s intent was to present a gospel message that was largely corporate in nature. I would argue that it is an individualistic reading of the NT that has to be justified, not a corporate approach.

Journey To Individualism

So how did the church come to read the scriptures in an individualistic manner?  Briefly, the transition began at the start of the second century with the emergence of a Greek leadership. Taught in the classics, they imported their secular Greek thinking with its focus on the individual, and unconsciously imposed it on the Greek translations of the apostolic writings. The mistake was easily made, but ultimately disastrous.

While the apostles wrote in Greek, and the alphabet they used was identical to that of the second century church, their dictionaries were not. The apostles were bathed in the Greek of the OT translation known as the Septuagint (LXX) that had within it all the Hebraic theological meaning, mindset and background of the OT text it translated. In the apostles’ minds, when they read the Greek of these sacred translated texts, they read them in light of the Hebrew meanings ingrained within their corporate Jewish heritage, not the individualistic secular Greek understanding of their present age.

When they then wrote their letters, they extended this heritage by channeling the OT’s meaning through their writings which, although written in Greek, were Hebraic in thought.  Evidence of this process can be found simply by looking at how often they quote the OT. The first century church, building on its rich Jewish heritage and bathed in the same OT scriptures, read the apostles’ letters in this way as well.

By the second century, however, the rapid expansion of the church into non-Jewish cultures resulted in a body of believers largely unfamiliar with the underlying Hebraic mindset and theology of the church’s founders. The loss of this OT theological context, which so shaped the apostles’ understanding of scripture and was decidedly corporate in nature, left the second century church fathers floundering for the meaning of many NT passages. Soon their understanding drifted off into the secular and highly individualistic Greek patterns of thought made popular by philosophers of their time such as Aristotle and Plato. Hidden Greek presuppositions began to control the way the text was read. All too often their reading of the texts were individualistic, allegorical and philosophical rather than corporate, typological and redemptive historical, lacking the OT Jewish context that tethered the first century church.

Where To From Here?

In order to recover an accurate understanding of the NT, it is critical to realize how much the Western church has been influenced by these developments. For one thing, our educational heritage is essentially Greek in its thought patterns and assumptions.  Consequently, there is an emphasis on the individual. But also, some of the Hellenistic assumptions embedded in the mindset of the early church fathers have become so entrenched that we've taken for granted this has always been the lens through which the church has read scripture.

This leads us today to a methodological choice. Even though the alphabet used in NT texts is Greek, the thought forms themselves are Hebraic, as evidenced by the constant reference to OT scriptures. As Mark Nanos has stated, “We now know that the entire NT is a collection of Jewish writings.” [3] In light of this fact, contemporary believers have an obligation to reflect on how to best approach these texts. Should we read them through a corporate lens as the original Jewish community would have read them, or should we continue to read scripture through the individualistic Greek lens we inherited from the second century Patristics? Are we going to continue to allow this heritage to overrule the biblical OT traditions so as to suppress the corporate emphasis of the NT? Put another way, are we going to read, interpret and make primary application of scripture within the Hebraic corporate perspective of the apostolic writers, or will we continue to ascribe to it a primarily individualistic meaning, one which the original authors never intended?

In referencing the ‘Jewish-ness of the New Testament,’ I am in no way seeking to suggest that Jews have a mindset that we Gentiles have to adopt. There are many Jewish mindsets, and there is certainly nothing in the Jewish DNA that gives them greater insight into the scriptures than non-Jews. Paul has made this fact abundantly clear. What I mean by this in relation to the NT scriptures is that the early church read the Old Testament in the light of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and teaching. Taught by Christ Himself, they had their own distinctive hermeneutic and this insight caused them to see how the OT spoke of Christ and pointed to him, not by relying on proof texts, but much more significantly, by seeing its overarching paradigm of redemptive history.

Understanding that a person’s mindset may differ from the language he or she uses is a very important factor in this discussion. At a recent conference, a lecturer from an internationally famous university dismissed the argument I am making about Paul’s Jewish mindset as being ridiculous, saying I had ‘shot myself in the foot because it was obvious that Paul wrote in Greek.’ This same accusation has been made in some reviews of my book, Contours of Pauline Theology. But this criticism is missing a vitally important point.

In the UK, there are millions of people who have settled as immigrants from all parts of the world. Among them is a large Muslim population. Certainly the second generation Muslims have adapted to their parent’s new home of choice remarkably well. Not only do they speak perfect English, many have also gone through UK’s universities and gained a thorough understanding of the British way of life.  But many of them would be horrified if it were to be suggested that because of this training they had become Westerners.  As far as their belief systems and religious practices are concerned, many remain as committed to their original heritage as they would have been had they never come to the UK. In other words, a person/people can use the language of another culture without having to buy into its belief system.

If we want to know where an immigrant population is in terms of being assimilated into the host culture, we have to listen to them very carefully and then evaluate what drives them in this vitally important part of their lives. Such is it with reading NT scripture. We know a primary characteristic of the Jewish people both before and since the Diaspora has been their identity as separate and apart from their immediate culture when it comes to matters of faith, so it should not surprise us to find the NT writers doing likewise during their time.

It is my contention that if you listen to Paul very carefully, there is only one source that dominates his thinking—it is the Old Testament—and its message drives him as he declares the coming of the hope of Israel and its implications for the nations. The letters to Rome and Galatia alone show us this is not the mind of a ‘Hellenist’; it is the mind of a devout Jew who has understood that the covenant promises made to Abraham have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

As mentioned before, several factors have contributed to what is now an individualistic reading of scripture. Some of these include the Reformation, the message of personal salvation preached during the First and Second Great Awakenings, some of our beloved hymns and other interpretive traditions that preserved this thinking, and a new emphasis on reason and the autonomy of the individual that developed during the Enlightenment period that challenged traditional forms of authority.

Also contributing has been the mass distribution of affordable scriptures that made individual scripture reading commonplace, and the creation of Sunday School and other Christian educational programs. To be clear, while personal scripture reading is most certainly to be encouraged, embracing an individualistic approach without appreciating the shifts in this methodological history can very easily obscure the vitally important corporate relationship that should be found in the church and which scripture presumes. The early church simply could not have recognized such a reading strategy!

What Difference Will It Make?

I am not suggesting that a corporate reading is a panacea for all of the church’s woes, but I do believe that many of our problems come from our distorted, individualistic approach to reading scripture. To restore health and well being to the body of Christ, believers desperately need to hear the original meaning of the NT texts, a meaning that begins first with God, and then with the people of God rather than the individual.

I am convinced that by making this major correction, the church will understand her sacred texts more accurately, interpret her experience of God's grace more perfectly, have a bigger vision for God’s call on His people as a whole, and a more visible unity among our various parts as we each respond to His calling. How so?

I believe a corporate reading of the NT will lead us to a fuller and richer ecclesiology. By realizing that scripture is not emphasizing the individual above the covenant community, the individual will be able to assume his/her rightful place within this holy nation. Instead of seeing the NT as having a doctrine of individualism where application to the church is secondary, we will discover that when the texts are read corporately, the focus of the NT is the church, and individual believers are not cut loose and left to fend for themselves, but are given a secure place within the people of God. Such a theological sense of community has long been absent from Evangelical thinking and in fact, has been a reason why those alarmed by its excessive individualism have rejected Evangelicalism.

Furthermore, a corporate reading has the inevitable effect of making us see the church in a way that reflects the understanding of the apostles. It’s all too easy to get caught up with relatively trivial issues that we allow to divide us from others who are also under the Lordship of Christ. In adopting such myopic views, we often lose sight of the grand, glorious picture of the church, which we all acknowledge but tend to minimize. Despite knowing the importance of the church, due to our individualized reading of the texts, we fail to see that the texts are not about ‘me and Jesus’ but ‘God and his people’ of whom I am privileged to be part of through God’s Son. The outworking of such a richer understanding can be nothing other than valuing not only those within our local churches, but also believers in other congregations and denominations as being an integral part of the same body.

I also believe many of the so-called problems of scripture interpretation used to undermine the authority of scripture have been rooted in an individualistic interpretive paradigm. A corporate reading would correct much of the damage such claims have made to the faith of the church. When seeking to decide the meaning of scriptures, it is critical to stay focused on the context that influenced, and often determined, the understanding of those who wrote the texts, and avoid interpreting the NT text through paradigms that were not shared by the early church. I believe that if this were done, it would not only restore confidence in the scriptures but would bring a reformation to our understanding of a whole range of biblical truth. [4]

Finally, by restoring the proper relationship between corporate community and the individual believer, it would return us to a healthy form of individualism that is present throughout the whole of the Christian scriptures.

A Challenge to the Church

In closing, I believe the seriousness of this major hermeneutical flaw found in today’s prevailing theological methodology demands a review of all theological literature, conservative as well as liberal, so that we can detect and appreciate the extent of this problem. As this process gets underway, I predict we will be horrified to discover just how much of Christian thought, and that includes Evangelical thought, is controlled by Hellenistic presuppositions. I am pleading that we begin the vital task of reforming ourselves under the word of God, using the apostle’s methods of interpretation. The news from those in pastoral charges who have begun this process is encouraging; they tell me it has helped to transform their ministries. However, the need for this reformation extends not just to churches in America or the UK, but also to Christian communities throughout the world.  

Because the Western church has exported its theological methodology through various missionary endeavors, it has given spiritual birth to children who have followed our individualistic road. Tragically, by introducing a Western, Hellenized, individualistic mindset into other international communities, we have often adversely affected cultures where a corporate identity naturally existed that would have given the new believers a valuable insight into the New Testament.

Lest any readers be afraid to commit themselves to this monumental task for fear of where it will lead them, I want to assure them that if they follow it, they will come out with a biblical orthodoxy that does not reject the confessions of the church, but sees that God in his mercy has kept the church despite her many confusions.


Tom Holland is Head of Biblical Research at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology. He leads an international team of theologians who are establishing fresh insights into the biblical writings. Tom is also the author of Contours of Pauline Theology (2004), an internationally acclaimed work and the recently released Romans: the Divine Marriage. For more information, visit Tom's website at http://www.tomholland.org.uk.


[1] The dualism referred to here is not gnostic dualism with its separation of flesh and spirit, with the former evil and the latter pure, but rather in terms of anthropology, man is seen as having two natures: one that is good and the other that is evil. For more on this, please read my Excursus on Romans 8 from The Divine MarriageSin In The Theology of Paul.

[2] T. W. Manson, "Romans" in Peak's Commentary on the Bible, p 945.

[3] Mark Nanos, The Mystery of Romans (Fortress Press, Philadelphia, I997), 8.

[4] For examples of this see Tom Holland, Contours of Pauline Theology (Christian Focus, Fearn, 2004).http://www.tomholland.org.uk/

© Bill Weaver 2012 - Email Bill at Heartland