Brian Abasciano’s response to a review of his book on Romans 9:10-18
by Roger E. Olson, PhD
I don’t normally do this at my blog, but friend Brian Abasciano of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a leading evangelical Arminian, has written an important book on Romans 9-11 from an Arminian perspective. An early review appears to misrepresent some ideas of the book and Brian has asked me to post his response here. If you know someone who has read the review in question, please see that they read Brian’s response.
Here is the response:
Steve Moyise recently reviewed my book (Brian J. Abasciano, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.10–18: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis [Library of New Testament Studies 317; New York: T&T Clark, 2011]) for the Review of Biblical Literature (http://www.bookreviews.org/bookdetail.asp?TitleId=8334). I have to say that I am quite disappointed in this review because of its unfair criticism based on misrepresentation of what I actually say and argue in the book. I would not normally seek to respond to a book review in this fashion (i.e., posting a reply on a friend’s blog). One expects book reviews to be critical in varying degrees, and interaction can be taken up in further published work if appropriate. But I think that this review deserves a prompt and direct response in this manner because it actually misrepresents me and the argument of the book. I will not address all of the criticisms Moyise leveled at my book, but try to remain brief and take up those that are based on misrepresentation rather than simple difference of perspective or approach.
In Moyise’s first main criticism, he gives the impression that I argue that Paul largely derived his view that ethnic Israel’s hardening is temporary from what is said about Edom and Pharaoh, and that everything can be deduced from the local context of Paul’s Old Testament quotations. But that is simply false. My argument is far more nuanced, arguing that one of those texts contributed to Paul’s view of the hardening as temporary (not that it is the main text contributing to Paul’s conception nor even one of the main texts) and that the other gives some subtle support for the idea in our assessment of Paul’s intention. With regard to the former, I wrote, “It would appear that Mal. 1.2-3 provides *some* of the scriptural basis for Paul’s conviction that God’s judgment of unbelieving ethnic Israel would bring Gentiles to faith and that his merciful treatment of the Gentiles would bring Jews to faith, summed up in 11:30-31” (72-73; emphasis added). With regard to the Pharaoh text, I said that it “gives *some support* to the reversibility of the hardening of 9.18” (212; emphasis added), and then later, on the same page, specify the nature of this support as hinting and subtle. Nowhere do I say that everything can be deduced about Paul’s argument from the local context of Pauls’ Old Testament quotations. However, if Paul was drawing his arguments from the Old Testament texts, as he seems to claim and I believe I have shown, then we should expect a great deal of his argumentation to be elucidated by examination of the Old Testament texts he quotes or alludes to. Moreover, I do examine the original contexts of Paul’s Old Testament quotations and compare them to Paul’s argument. If that yields many striking correspondences, then it behooves us to acknowledge that. Indeed, we should follow the evidence wherever it leads. Moyise himself concedes that I “provide a significant challenge to those who think that Paul had little interest in the original context of his quotations.”
Moyise’s other major criticism is that I assume Paul’s readers would be able to follow Paul’s exegetical moves. But he again misrepresents what I actually say (unintentionally I am sure). Moyise claims that I argue that Paul’s readers would take ἐξήγειρά σε in the sense of “I have spared you” because they would know that the Hebrew uses the hiphil of עמד (“to stand”), which was rendered by the LXX with διετηρήθης (“you were spared”). I neither say nor imply any such a thing. I do point out that the both the Hebrew and the LXX (i.e., the original context of Paul’s quotation in both language versions) carry the sense of “I have spared you,” and that this accords with Paul’s only other usage of the verb ἐξεγείρω, as well as with his dominant usage of the cognate verb ἐγείρω. These are standard types of exegetical observations for scholarly biblical literature, and it is surprising if Moyise would find it objectionable for them to be cited as support for construing Paul’s intention. But even if he does, they do not make the sort of claim that Moyise claims I make. He has simply misrepresented me here.
I believe that Moyise and I have sharp differences in our approaches to Paul’s use of the Old Testament, differences that reflect major debates in the field of Old Testament in the New studies. These differences come out in his review, and I have intentionally not addressed them much in this format since such criticisms are par for the course in book reviews.
However, Moyise’s two main criticisms of my book are grounded in misrepresentation of what I actually say and argue. That is not par for the course for scholarly book reviews and calls for correction. We should represent others’ views rightly before we criticize them.