Book Review: The Future of Land in the Pauline Epistles

The Future Inheritance of Land in the Pauline EpistlesThe Future Inheritance of Land in the Pauline Epistles by Miguel G. Echevarria Jr.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There are not many resources that deal particularly with this subject, and especially the New Testament aspect of it. The author is clear about that and interacts with what is available. Of necessity, some of the material he interacts with comes from commentaries on relevant passages, so those aren’t as robust as a long form treatment, like James Hester’s for instance. As he interacted with different scholars, he was clear where he agrees or disagrees with them and why. He managed to do so without being insulting or condescending, and without misrepresenting them. Echevarria has done some good work here.

There are a number of things he does well in this book that provides a needed correction to the classical Augustinian system. The book starts very strong as he works through the Old Testament, noting the shape and tangibility of inheritance promises beginning with Abraham. He demonstrates from the prophets and historical books how those promises have never been fulfilled or realized by Abraham’s descendants. This is a line he maintains through the end of the book and does a good job refuting the neoplatonist idea of an already/not yet inheritance that spiritualizes tangible and territorial promises to have some sort of fulfillment presently. He plainly and effectively argues that land promises have in no way or in no sense been fulfilled already and the fulfillment is entirely future. Here he breaks with the classical Augustinian typological interpretation that leads to understanding tangible, physical entities as somehow being fulfilled in immaterial, spiritual ways, but the break is not as clean as it might seem. In this, he is downstream from some of the new wave interpreters like Hoekema who moved away from spiritual fulfillment toward new creation, physical fulfillment.

Apart from a few wobbles, he rolled through the Old Testament nicely, but the wheels came off in the intertestamental pothole. Surprisingly, he adopted the erroneous New Perspective hermeneutic, and quoted liberally from the usual suspects of Wright, Dunn, and Sanders. Of course, N. T. Wright has also broken with the classical Augustinian system with his emphasis on physical new creation fulfillment, so this isn’t entirely surprising. The New Perspective uses the apocalyptic literature of second temple Judaism to reinterpret, recontextualize, reframe, transcend, transform, etc. the Old Testament. A lot of different terms are used for this maneuver, and many practitioners want to avoid words prefixed with “re.” A horse by any other name still can’t be made to drink the water, and despite the protests, this hermeneutic changes the original contextual meaning of prior revelation. I’m aware of the protests and all the nice sounding talk about greater fulfillment and such, but it’s the same difference.

Echevarria makes use of the second temple literature to expand the land of Canaan promised to Israel as Abraham’s descendants to include the whole earth, and then reads that back into the Old Testament to transform the original promise. He concludes, “the original promised land was never meant to be the place where God would reign permanently over Israel.” Once he reinterpreted the Old Testament by the Jewish literature, he proceeds through the rest of the book as if that is what the Old Testament meant. He uses the Jewish corpus to reinterpret the Old Testament before he ever gets to Paul’s letters, which is the target of his whole study. He takes non-Scripture writings and interprets the Scripture by them, so he effectively values these writings as progress of revelation. So the break with Augustinianism is not clean as he still ends up changing the original promise, though he holds a physical rather than spiritual fulfillment. He faults from start on Paul’s writings because he comes to Paul with a reinterpreted Old Testament and the presupposition that Paul uses the reinterpretation in his own writing, rather than the original contextual meaning.

This is getting longer than I intended, so let me end with a glaring neglect in this study. Echevarria argues for the expansion of the original land inheritance promise based on the apocalyptic Jewish writings of the second temple period. It’s undeniable that second temple Judaism envisioned the Jews inheriting not just Canaan, but the entire earth. That’s a key point for this study. However, second temple Jews did not envision an expanded or new Israel that’s mainly Gentiles that would inherit the entire earth. No, their vision of the future was decidedly Jewish. Echevarria gives no explicit explanation for this glaring inconsistency. On the one hand, he adopted their view that the original promise was expanded to include the entire earth, but on the other hand he doesn’t adopt their view that the inheritors were most definitely the ethnically Jewish people.

This book and study is valuable. I disagree with his conclusions, but especially his method of arriving at those conclusions. He has done a lot of good work in this book and it’s worth reading.

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