I mentioned in Part 1 of this review that, while I liked J. Ross Wagner's approach to Paul's use of Isaiah, I had some disagreements with other aspects of Wagner's thesis. My disagreements were triggered early on when I came to his view that Romans 1:16-17, as the thematic statement of Romans, asserts God's covenant faithfulness toward Israel, and through Israel, to the Gentiles. He writes:
In this compact sentence, Paul asserts that the "righteousness of God" -- that is, God's faithfulness to rescue his covenant people Israel and to vindicate them before their oppressors -- is revealed in what God has now accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The promises of redemption and restoration for Israel are at long last being realized. Moreover, the benefits of Israel's redemption are available to Jew and Gentile alike on precisely the same basis. Paul unpacks the significance of these claims in the chapters that follow (p. 44).
Wagner does not attempt to prove this definition of "the righteousness of God" in Paul but relies on other scholars whom he cites in a footnote, including James D. G. Dunn, E. P. Sanders, Richard B. Hays, Ernst Käsemann, and Peter Stuhlmacher.
Now one can have a legitimate disagreement over the proper exegesis of Romans 11, especially the phrase, "all Israel shall be saved" (Wagner takes it, unsurprisingly, as a future large-scale conversion of Jews to Christ), without making the additional major claim that Wagner and other scholars identified with the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) generally make. This additional major claim is that the entire Epistle to the Romans is to be subsumed under the thematic statement of God's covenant faithfulness. So not only does Wagner interpret Rom 11:26 as predicting a future conversion of national Israel, because of his take on Rom 1:16-17, he reductionistically makes this the theme of the whole epistle!
At this point, I should point out something that really annoys me. Wagner, like many NPP scholars, quotes Rom 1:16-17a but leaves out 17b, which says, "... as it is written, 'He who is righteous by faith shall live.'" He literally has ellipses (...) at the end of 17a ("for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith ...") (p. 44). As Francis Watson points out in Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith, the statement of Paul concerning the righteousness of God in 17a is generated by the Scripture quotation in 17b, and the lexical linkage between the two (the noun "righteousness" [dikaiosyne] and the adjective "righteous" [dikaios]) demands that the verse be read as a whole and in fact constitutes rather strong evidence against the "covenant faithfulness of God" interpretation. For how, on this view, should the adjective be interpreted? "For in it the covenant faithfulness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, 'He who is covenantally faithful by faith shall live'" just doesn't make any sense. The only way it could perhaps be given a shred of tolerable sense would be to interpret "he who is dikaios" as a reference to Christ himself, a view that was held by some commentators but which is generally not considered to be a truly likely option given Paul's emphasis in Romans on sinners being "righteous by faith." In other words, if Rom 1:16-17 is the thematic statement, then it should correspond to the way that thematic statement is explained later in Rom 1-5, which clearly has to do with individuals being justified by faith, i.e., "righteous by faith."
The NPP approach to Romans makes the issue of Israel's corporate future in chapters 9-11 the climax of the argument to which the individual soteriological concerns of chapters 1-8 are subordinated. The central concerns that Luther and Calvin saw in the text -- how can unrighteous sinners be accepted before God and escape divine wrath? -- are regarded as less interesting and less important than the corporate questions of God's faithfulness to his covenant people and the redefinition of that covenant people in Christocentric terms so as to allow for Gentile inclusion without the need for observing the Jewish ceremonial law.
Wagner's indebtedness to the NPP is also evident throughout this work in other ways. For example, he says that he agrees with E. P. Sanders's claim that Judaism was not a legalistic religion and that therefore what Paul was concerned with in his polemic against "works" was not legalism but Jewish exclusiveness as evidenced in its insistence on the "boundary markers" of the Sabbath, the kosher laws, and circumcision (pp. 122-23 note 10).
Accents strongly characteristic of the NPP also come strongly to the fore in Wagner's exegesis of Rom 9:30--10:4 (pp. 152-55). He argues that what Paul faults is not Israel's pursuit of the Law, but her pursuit of the Law in such a way as to miss the telos (= goal) of the Law, which is Christ. Israel failed to see that the goal of the Law was Christ, and so they pursued the law in the wrong manner, that is, by works (i.e., with a spirit of excluding Gentiles by being zealous for the boundary markers), rather than by faith. They were attempting to establish "their own righteousness," in a corporate sense, a righteousness that Israel could boast in as a corporate entity in distinction from the Gentiles, rather than submitting to "the righteousness of God" revealed in Christ, that is, God's plan of being faithful to his covenant people through the death and resurrection of Christ and thereby extending covenant inclusion to the Gentiles.
This is all standard NPP stuff -- see Dunn and Wright. Wagner's unique spin is to see these themes adumbrated in Isaiah's call to Israel in Isaiah 8 and 28-29 to trust in God rather than enter into treaties with foreign nations to stave off God's judgment. In fact, God, according to Isaiah, would bring ultimate deliverance to Israel only as she submitted to God's strange ways (e.g., being punished temporarily by oppressive Gentile regimes such as the Assyrians). According to Wagner, Paul's explicit use of Isa 28:16 + 8:14 ("Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling") in Rom 9:33 is calculated to spark an implicit allusion to these broader Isaianic themes:
Just as God's dealings with foreign nations -- particularly his choice of Assyria as an instrument to discipline his own people -- scandalized the majority of Israel in Isaiah's day, so now the gospel Paul proclaims to the Gentiles has caused Israel to stumble badly. Whereas Israel had long associated God's righteousness with the markers of the covenant (pursuing the Law ex ergon), Paul now proclaims the news that in Christ God's righteousness is extended to Jew and Gentile alike on the same basis of faith. For Israel to hang on to its covenant markers now and to refuse to recognize God's acceptance of Jews and Gentiles solely on the basis of pistis would be to reject God's righteousness in favor of "their own righteousness" (pp. 154-55).
The Isaiah insights aside, this is a strongly NPP reading of a key text, Rom 9:30--10:4. Perhaps the Isaiah insights could be rescued and reformulated along more Old Perspective lines, but that is not my concern in this review.
In sum, Wagner's dissertation has some valuable and helpful things to say about Paul's use of Isaiah, not just the explicit quotations but Paul's allusions to broader Isaianic themes. Yet the book is marred by Wagner's reliance on the NPP as a grid for interpreting key texts.