Review of “Heralds of the Good News” by J. Ross Wagner

Wagner  Review

Timothy J. Christian. Review of J. Ross Wagner, Heralds of the Good News: Isaiah and Paul in Concert in the Letter to the Romans, (Boston: Brill, 2003).

INTRODUCTION

In this book review, I will critically evaluate New Testament scholar J. Ross Wagner’s Heralds of the Good News: Isaiah and Paul in Concert in the Letter to the Romans. I will begin by summarizing Wagner’s aims, methodology, and central theses in the book. Next, I will analyze it by judging whether or not it lives up to its claims and by discussing both places for improvement and the work’s lasting contribution. Overall, Wagner’s work here on the intertextuality of Romans and Isaiah is an invaluable contribution to the field of New Testament studies.

SUMMARY OF WAGNER

The Aims and Methodology

To begin, Wagner’s main aim is to investigate exegetically Paul’s use of Isaiah in Romans, particularly in Rom 9-11 and 15, and specifically regarding his reinterpretation of Isaiah and possible alterations of his Isaianic Vorlage. He attempts to do so by two primary methods, one being intertextual analysis through examining the OT (esp. Isaiah) echoes in Romans, and the other textual criticism through comparative analysis of the Septuagint (LXX), Masoretic Text (MT), Dead Sea Scrolls, and other versions of Isaiah with Paul’s rendition in Romans.

The Central Theses

Throughout Heralds of The Good News, I have traced about eight central theses that Wagner argues. First, he argues that the current “remnant of Israel” guarantees the future restoration of Israel.[1] Secondly, he asserts that Paul’s convictions are threefold: “God’s sovereignty, God’s election of Israel, and God’s fidelity to the covenant.”[2] Thirdly, he contends that Paul consistently interprets the OT christologically and that he adapts or reinterprets Isaiah for his own mission and theological purposes in Romans sometimes regardless of the original context. Another argued thesis is that Paul sees his mission to the Gentiles resulting in the restoration of Israel as prefigured in Isaiah. Next, he sees Isaiah as a fellow herald proclaiming with Paul the good news (gospel) of Israel’s restoration. Moreover, Wagner argues that Paul often conflates other OT texts with Isaiah in Romans, which serve as harmony to the Isaianic melody sounding in Romans. Thus, Isaiah is the prominent soloist and the other texts from Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Hosea are the accompaniment. Lastly, Wagner maintains that Paul uses a Greek Vorlage which is similar to the LXX and has little influence from the Hebrew or Aramaic versions. Overall, Wagner concludes,

[Paul’s] scriptural interpretations serve the ends of the larger argument he is constructing in the letter, an argument that is called forth by a complex set of circumstances and concerns that have arisen in the context of his mission to the Gentiles. And yet, at the same time, the letter to the Romans reveals, perhaps more clearly than any other of Paul’s letters, the deep and pervasive influence that Israel’s scriptures exert on the shape of his thought and on the contours of his apostolic ministry…Paul appropriates Isaianic images in order to depict his ministry of the gospel as the proclamation of Israel’s long-awaited release and restoration.[3]

ANALYSIS OF WAGNER

In my judgment, Wagner most certainly accomplishes his aims in Heralds of the Good News and gives a thorough and detailed analysis of Paul’s use of Isaiah in Romans. Furthermore, he interacts with a plethora of other scholars and touches on many of the main interpretive issues in Romans throughout his exegesis of Rom 9-11 and 15. In addition, his argument has both logical consistency and explanatory power. With regard to his method, Wagner executes the intertextual method and textual criticism with such obvious expertise and experience, and has done a stupendous job setting the standard for intertextual studies in Romans and the NT in general. Furthermore, since his whole study relies upon working with the primary text, he tends to remain faithful to the primary materials of Romans, Isaiah, and other OT texts.

Room for Improvement

There is, however, one main change that Wagner could make to improve his volume even more. While he does a fantastic job at setting out the data concerning Paul’s use of Isaiah and other OT texts in Rom 9-11 and 15, he is nevertheless quite sparse in providing the implications of that data. Most chapters end leaving one asking, “So what?” Even though the final chapter is set aside to display the full implications of the study, Wagner could still have given more to the reader at the end of each chapter.[4] Even though this is for a scholarly audience which will be patient enough to read through until the end, it would be far better to give some “pay off” to the throughout.

The Lasting Contributions of “Heralds of the Good News”

Despite this, Heralds of the Good News has made several important and lasting contributions to NT studies. First, it is a definitive work on Paul’s use of Isaiah in Romans. I am not aware of any other work that attempts such a feat, let alone executes it so well. Secondly, it is a definitive work on intertextual studies and OT echoes in the NT, and advances the body of knowledge as a superb example of how to do intertextuality. In addition, Wagner’s charts and tables comparing and contrasting the several witnesses to the quoted OT texts are indispensable for reference. Finally, this work is both an entry point and cistern for those who desire to understand better Paul’s use of, interpretation of, and adaption of OT Scripture. All in all, Heralds of the Good News is an excellent contribution to the field of biblical studies and I highly recommend it.

You can buy it on amazon for an arm and a leg (about $75): http://www.amazon.com/Heralds-Good-News-Isaiah-Concert/dp/0391042041/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1397321103&sr=8-2&keywords=j+ross+wagner


[1] Wagner says, “Paul joins Isaiah in insisting that the existence of a remnant of Israel in the present time vouchsafes the future redemption of ‘all Israel’” (41).

[2] Wagner 357.

[3] Wagner 356-57.

[4] That is not to say that he gives no implications, because he certainly does, but rather 300+ pages of detailed intertextual and text critical work with little momentary payoff  is quite difficult to trudge through. My point: he does not need to save the climax of implications for the end. It would benefit his work to add more inferences of the data in the chapters proper.