Brian Abasciano’s response to a review of his book on Romans 9-11

Brian Abasciano’s response to a review of his book on Romans 9-11 May 14, 2012

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 ( 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 Pauls’ 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.


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  • Steve Dal

    Sorry. Who is Steve Moyise? I tried to look him up but didn’t get too far. Is he Calvinist or what?

    • rogereolson

      I don’t know. Brian….?

  • Brian Abasciano

    Steve Moyise is a biblical scholar who focuses on the use of the Old Testament in the New. He is a professor of Theology and Religion and head of that department at the University of Chichester. As for his soteriological stance, I actually do not know. I don’t think he is an evangelical and that question might not even be applicable for him (not that evangelicals are the only ones that that question is relevant for). I don’t think his misrepresentation of me is an anti-Arminian thing, if that’s what you are wondering. I think it has more to do with differing approaches to the use of the OT in the New and was unintentional.

  • earl

    Moyise is at Univ. of Chichester in West Sussex… from Google.

  • earl

    That is uk.

  • John Inglis

    I would agree that Moyise majors on the minors in his review of Abasciano in order to make points consistent with his own interpretive framework. Moyise does not evaluate the core arguments of Abasciano, nor does he take on Abasciano’s framework as a whole.

    Consequently, Moyise’s review boils down to whether Moyise believs Abasciano to be correct in his interpretation of the Pauline intent and usage for the O.T. quotes. That is, all we get is a difference of interpretation of the limited quotes taken up by Moyise. What is missing, however, is a review of whether Abasciano’s framework for Pauline usage of the O.T. is, as a whole and as a different approach, is correct. Indeed, we cannot tell from the review what the differences are between Moyise and Abasciano. Nor can we tell whether these differences affect Abasciano’s handling of other O.T. quotes by Paul.

    The shallowness of the review is scandalous in light of the fact that Abasciano’s prior work exmplified in a preceding volume in the series (which is briefly acknowledged by Moyise), and his Ph.D. work and subsequent published papers. Abasciano’s ouevre has an overall approach that has remained consistent. What is Moyise’s view on how this has worked out in the present work under review?

    Moreover, Moyise has failed to show that the quote is foundational at all for Abasciano’s overall understanding of Romans in general and chapter 9 in particular.

    Similarly, Moyise fails to show that Abasciano has any particalar view of the abilities of Paul’s readers, let alone the one put forward by Moyise. Moyise starts off with a negative assumption that is not justified and, in fact, turns out to actually be contrary to what Abasciano puts forward.

    The result is a review that does not deal with the substance of Abasciano’s work: neither with respect to Abasciano’s overall approach to the N.T. Paul’s use of the O.T., nor with respect to the particular understanding of the passages in Romans 9. In sum, the review reads as if it were written by a student of Moyise’s, which student did not have the tools to understand what is going on and likely not the time to actually read the work reviewed.

    Moyise also reviewed Abasciano’s published PhD these in RBL 10/2006 (can be read at Moyise’s fundamental disagreement with Abasciano seems to be that (in his view) Abasciano uses the O.T. to over-determine the interpretation of Paul’s writings and that he has too high an estimation of Paul’s readers. In this earlier review Moyise comments, “He [Abasciano] assumes that the high level of scriptural argumentation in Romans “leads us to posit scripturally astute readers” (26), dismissing the opposite view (e.g., Stanley) that the likely low levels of literacy among Paul’s readers should affect our reconstructions of Paul.”

    Though Moyise agrees that the O.T. provides illuminating background to Paul’s writings, Moyise observes that “The longest chapter (45–146) is likely to confirm the suspicions of those who are critical
    of an intertextual approach.”

    Moyise’s review of this earlier work was rather positive, “This is a rich and insightful study that shows the fruitfulness of exploring the complex intertextual connections between Paul and the Old Testament. I am happiest when Abasciano is being circumspect.” Moyise’s chief complaint then, as now, is that Abasciano sees and argues for more than is actually present (in Paul’s use of O.T.). “He [Abasciano] may be right, but it does raise a question mark against using this study to generalize about Paul’s use of scripture.”

    Moyise would prefer to take a more literary approach: “Finally, though Abasciano makes it clear that his interest in intertextuality is purely historical and focused on Paul’s intentions, it seems to me that a broader literary understanding would be more helpful in a study such as this.”

    This earlier review much more ably sets out the differences between Moyise and Abasciano for the benefit of the reader of the review, and enables the reader to discern where the two scholars are coming from and why / where Moyise agrees or disagrees with Abasciano. In reading the latest (2012) review after reading the previous one (2006), one gets the impression that Moyise assumes that the reader of the 2012 review is familiar with the 2006 review, which more substantively lays out a critique (both positive and negative).

    Moyise, one would think, is a good choice for a reviewer, given that he has written The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation, The Old Testament in the New, and Evoking Scripture: Seeing the Old Testament in the New, Psalms in the New Testament, Isaiah in the New Testament, Deuteronomy in the New Testament, The Minor Prophets in the New Testament (he is editor of the T & T Clark series on the Old in the New), and Paul and Scripture: Studying the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.

    In interviews Moyise has stated that Richard Hays’ 1989 book, “Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul”, “marks the beginning of applying more sophisticated literary approaches to Paul” and that Chris Stanley provides a good critique of these approaches in his 2004 work “Arguing with Scripture” wherein he addresses the issue of what Paul’s readers would understand and pick up on.

    Moyise is critical of those who put too much emphasis on the intent and meaning of the original author(s)/editor(s) of the O.T. passage, that is those who see Paul as working with and building upon the original author’s intent. In addition, he is very suspicious of the abilities of Paul’s readers to get much of this O.T. meaning from Paul’s writings (to get how Paul was handling the texts and all the alleged intertextual references, and to understand these as providing a strong basis for Paul’s work). Furthermore, Moyise has written before that any use of the O.T. by a N.T. writer means that O.T. “allusions and quotations are always out of context to some degree because they have been loo sed from their original linguistic and cultural moorings. Though it is true that they often evoke something of the old context, their meaning is now largely determined by the role and function they have in their pew context.” (ANVIL, v. 18, no. 1, 2001).

    Had Moyise made this more clear in his 2012 review, it would have been much more useful, and likely more accurate.

    I think that Moyise’s own work leads him to be somewhat dismissive and less inclined to read deeply and charitably when dealing with repeat offenders (i.e., author’s who in Moyise’s opinion continue to push a strongly intertextual and original meaning usage of O.T. texts, and who downplay the loss of context).

    Just my 2 cents.

    John I.

    • rogereolson

      Well, that’s worth much more than 2 cents! I don’t know what Brian will think, but I thank you for putting the time and effort and expertise into this response.

  • chad

    The link in the article incorrectly goes to a email portal. Here is the correct link: