Saturday, May 16, 2015

Dr Thomas Schreiner reviews Dr Abasciano's book on Romans 9

The link to Dr Thomas Schreiner’s review of Dr Brian Abasciano’s book, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.10–18, was recently posted in the SEA Facebook discussion group (link, if you’d like to join the discussion, this group is open to non-members).   Dr Schreiner’s review includes a helpful summary of Dr Abasciano’s conclusions on these verses, and is also interesting for providing a leading Calvinist’s perspective on Dr Abasciano’s work.

Dr Schreiner begins:

Brian Abasciano has already published a study of Rom 9:1–9 and plans to publish a concluding volume on 9:19–33. Hence, this work on Rom 9:10–18 is the second part of a three-volume work. This book consists of an intense analysis of Rom 9:10–18 informed by an intertextual exegesis of OT texts that Paul uses in these verses. When Abasciano speaks of intertextuality, he has in mind the historical and grammatical meaning of the OT texts in their historical contexts. He then proceeds to investigate the reuse of these texts in Romans. Much of the book, then, consists in studying the OT texts in their original context. For instance, chapter 2 considers Gen 25:23, chapter 3 Mal 1:2–3, and chapter 4 the use of Gen 25:23 and Mal 1:2–3 in later Jewish literature. Similarly, chapter 6 examines Exod 9:16 and the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, and chapter 7 the appropriation of Exod 33:19b and 9:16 in later Jewish traditions. Abasciano has two chapters on the exegesis of Rom 9 itself: chapter 5 on Rom 9:10–13 and chapter 8 on Rom 9:14–18. The two chapters that interpret Romans are informed by the examination of the OT and the interpretive traditions in subsequent Jewish literature. The book is framed by an introduction and conclusion.

Abasciano argues that Paul’s reuse of the OT accords with the original historical context and meaning of the OT texts, maintaining that the OT played a formative influence in Paul’s thinking. He also concludes that there is some support for the New Perspective in a close reading of Rom 9:10–18, but at the same time he also finds support for the traditional notion that Paul inveighs against works-righteousness, and thus he defends the notion that some Jews fell into legalism, even if such legalism was contrary to their theology. Abasciano says that God’s covenant promises and election are due to God’s sovereign call and not by works or ancestry. Still, God’s election is ultimately conditional and based on faith.

The argument is tightly constructed and well-done, consisting of careful exegesis of the text in conversation with other scholars. A short review cannot trace out the details of the argument, so the review will set forth some of the main conclusions Abasciano advances. The election of Jacob instead of Esau in Gen 25 has individuals in view but is primarily corporate, and hence it applies especially to the peoples of Israel and Edom. God didn’t choose Jacob and reject Esau based on their works or lack thereof, but Esau’s rejection of the birthright and Jacob’s treasuring of it “is a sort of justification for God’s choice” (p. 13). In the same way, the election of Jacob instead of Esau in Mal 1:2–3 is also fundamentally corporate. Individual Edomites could choose to join Israel and be saved, and hence unconditional election isn’t taught here.

Dr Schriener then summarizes Dr Abasciano’s main conclusions on verses 6–13 and 14–18.  He concludes the summary:

In a short review I can scarcely interact with the details of Abasciano’s argument. His attention to the OT context in Rom 9–11 is helpful, and there are many excellent exegetical insights as he explores the various texts. The later Jewish traditions don’t play a major role in the thesis, but it is instructive to see how other writers appropriated and understood the texts cited here.

Dr Schriener continues by outlining six criticisms, then concludes his review:
Vigorous and friendly discussions on Rom 9:10–18 are important since our goal is to understand God’s word. We can be thankful for Abasciano’s commitment to the Scriptures, for his careful exegesis, and for a fine defense of the Arminian reading. The debate will continue, and those of us who are Reformed can be thankful for interlocutors like Abasciano who take the biblical text seriously.

The entire review is available online here.  Dr Abasciano’s reply is here.

You can also check out the Google preview: Brian J Abasciano, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.10–18: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis.  If you’d like to read the full book, be sure to try the “Find in a library” link on the top left corner of the preview; right above it, there is also a link to purchase the Ebook.

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