A Summary of the New Perspective on Paul

by Mark M. Mattison

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New Revised Standard Version.

Depending upon one’s point of view, the current state of Pauline studies is either exciting or alarming. Traditional interpretations of Paul’s letters are being examined afresh with increasing frequency as scholars diligently work to reconstruct Paul’s historical context. The fact that these studies may not corroborate traditional Reformed interpretations can be used to discount the growing consensus or to reconsider contemporary approaches to soteriology.

Of what might such a reconsideration consist? One of the primary features of the traditional Protestant doctrine of justification is an emphasis on the plight of the individual before God, an individual quest for piety apart from concrete social structures. As John Howard Yoder put it in his classic, The Politics of Jesus:

In line with the personal appeal which has been so central in Protestant faith since Luther, even more since Pietism, and especially since the merging of Protestant existentialism with modern secular personalism — and even more especially since Freud and Jung imposed upon everyone in our culture the vision of man as a self-centered reacting organism — it has seemed quite evident that the primary message of Jesus was a call most properly perceived by an individual, asking the hearer for something that can be done most genuinely by an individual standing alone. Whether this something that he can do standing alone be a rare heroic ethical performance like loving one’s enemies, or a response more accessible to the common man, like sorrow for his sins, it is a response each individual can make only for himself. It has nothing to do with the structures of society.1

Consequently, a historical reappraisal of Paul’s doctrine of justification could help not only to provide a more solid basis for bringing faith to bear on social issues, but also to strengthen the continued development of ecumenical dialogue.

The key questions involve Paul’s view(s) of the law and the meaning of the controversy in which Paul was engaged. Paul strongly argued that we are “justified by faith in Christ (or “the faith of Christ”) and not by doing the works of the law” (Gal. 2:16b). Since the time of Martin Luther, this has been understood as an indictment of legalistic efforts to merit favor before God. In fact Judaism in general has come to be construed as the very antithesis of Christianity. Judaism is earthly, carnal, proud; Christianity is heavenly, spiritual, humble. It is a tragic irony that all of Judaism has come to be viewed in terms of the worst vices of the sixteenth-century institutionalized church.

When Judaism is thus cast in the role of the medieval church, Paul’s protests become veryLutheran and traditional Protestant theology is reinforced in all its particulars, along with its limitations. In hermeneutical terms, then, the historical context of Paul’s debate lies at the very heart of the doctrine of justification in the church.

Obviously an in-depth analysis of the Pauline corpus and its place in the context of first-century Judaism would take us far beyond the scope of this brief article. We can, however, quickly survey the topography of Paul’s thought in context, particularly as it has emerged through the efforts of recent scholarship, and note some salient points which may be used as the basis of a refurbished soteriology.

Judaism as Legalistic: The Making and Breaking of a Paradigm

Traditional Protestant soteriology, focused as it is on the plight of the conscience-smitten individual before a holy God, must be carved out of the rock of human pretentiousness in order to be cogent. Thus it is no accident that the Reformers interpreted the burning issues of Paul’s day in light of their struggle against legalism. “The Reformers’ interpretation of Paul,” writes Krister Stendahl, “rests onan analogism when Pauline statements about Faith and Works, Law and Gospel, Jews and Gentiles are read in the framework of late medieval piety. The Law, the Torah, with its specific requirements of circumcision and food restrictions becomes a general principle of ‘legalism’ in religious matters.”2

This caricature of Judaism was buttressed by such scholars as Ferdinand Weber, who arranged a systematic presentation of rabbinic literature.3 Weber’s book provided a wealth of Jewish source material neatly arranged to show Judaism as a religion of legalism. Emil Schürer, Wilhelm Bousset, and others were deeply influenced by Weber’s work.4 These scholars in turn have been immensely influential. Rudolf Bultmann, for instance, relied on Schürer and Bousset for his understanding of first-century Judaism.5

Weber’s interpretation of Judaism did not go unchallenged, however. The Jewish theologian Claude G. Montefiore6 pointed out that Weber had not approached rabbinic literature with sufficient sensitivity to its nature and diversity. Weber had imposed a systematic grid on the rabbinic literature and wrested passages out of context. The law in Judaism was not a burden which produced self-righteousness. On the contrary, the law was itself a gift from a merciful and forgiving God.

A second challenge came from a non-Jewish scholar, George Foot Moore.7 Moore’s treatment of Weber was even more devastating than Montefiore’s. Moore clearly demonstrated that Weber had little firsthand knowledge of rabbinic literature and in fact took most of his quotations from earlier Christian works against Judaism. He demonstrated Schürer’s and Bousset’s reliance on Weber and, like Montefiore, pointed out that rabbinic Judaism was not a religion of legalism.

This point was not sufficiently driven home, however, until the publication in 1977 of E. P. Sanders’ book Paul and Palestinian Judaism. A New Testament scholar with a good grasp of rabbinic literature, Sanders drove the final and most powerful nail into the coffin of the traditional Christian caricature of Judaism. Sanders’ extensive treatment of the Tannaitic literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha was designed, like the efforts of Montefiore and Moore, to describe and define Palestinian Judaism on its own terms, not as the mirror reflection of Christianity. Unlike Montefiore and Moore, Sanders has been immensely successful in convincing New Testament scholars. Sanders has coined a now well-known phrase to describe the character of first-century Palestinian Judaism: “covenantal nomism.” The meaning of “covenantal nomism” is that human obedience is not construed as the means of entering into God’s covenant. That cannot be earned; inclusion within the covenant body is by the grace of God. Rather, obedience is the means of maintaining one’s status within the covenant. And with its emphasis on divine grace and forgiveness, Judaism was never a religion of legalism.

Krister Stendahl: Paul’s “Robust Conscience”

The more we consider Paul’s writing in this context the less we see the acute psychological dilemma characteristic of the Augustinian-Lutheran interpretation as a whole. Krister Stendahl masterfully explores this in his ground-breaking essay “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West.” Paul was certainly aware of his own shortcomings, but, Stendahl asks, “does he ever intimate that he is aware of any sins of his own which would trouble his conscience? It is actually easier to find statements to the contrary. The tone in Acts 23:1, ‘Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience up to this day’ (cf. 24:16), prevails also throughout his letters.”8Far from being “simultaneously a sinner and a saint” (simul iustus et peccator), Paul testifies of his clear conscience: “Indeed, this is our boast, the testimony of our conscience: we have behaved in the world with frankness and godly sincerity” (2 Cor. 1:12a). He was aware that he had not yet “arrived” (Phil. 3:12-14), that he still struggled with the flesh, yet he was confident of the value of his performance (1 Cor. 9:27). He looked forward to a day when “all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10), and he anticipated a favorable verdict (v. 11). He acknowledged that his clear conscience did not necessarily ensure this verdict (1 Cor. 4:4), but he was confident nevertheless. These are hardly the convictions of someone who intends to rest entirely on the merits of an alien righteousness imputed to his or her account.

It may be countered that Paul considered himself the least of the apostles (1 Cor. 15:9a; cp. Eph. 3:8) and in fact chief of sinners (cp. 1 Tim. 1:15). But this is not the paradigmatic expression of humility and contrition, as if every Christian should regard herself more sinful than the next. Paul’s chief sin was that he had violently persecuted the church (1 Cor. 15:9b; cp. 1 Tim. 1:13-16). This confession is obviously concrete and historical — not subjective, existential, and universally comparable to every person’s experience. At any rate Paul had put all of that behind him and made up for his sordid past (1 Cor. 15:10); he did not languish in guilt. From what we know of his extant writings, he did not seem to experience the unrelenting introspection which became so characteristic of Western humankind after Augustine. Nor, many historians agree, could he have in his time and culture.9

All of this would seem to be at loggerheads with Romans 7, where Paul writes that “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (v. 19). Is this not the despairing cry (whether pre-conversion or post-conversion) of a person smitten by a remoresful conscience? Stendahl reminds us that this passage is part of a larger argument about the law. In defending the holiness of the law Paul assigns guilt to Sin and the Flesh. But Paul does not simply identify the egō with Sin and Flesh. Verse 19 does not lead directly into verse 24 as a cry of despair, but into verse 20 which on the contrary exonerates the egō and blames the principle of Sin. Paul’s simple observation that a person often does what he or she knows is wrong serves to preserve the holiness and goodness of the Law. Stendahl writes:

Paul happened to express this supporting argument so well that what to him and his contemporaries was a common sense observation appeared to later interpreters to be a most penetrating insight into the nature of sin. This could happen easily once the problem about the nature and intention of God’s Law was not any more as relevant a problem in the sense in which Paul grappled with it. The question about the Law became the incidental framework around the golden truth of Pauline anthropology. This is what happens when one approaches Paul with the Western question of an introspective conscience. This Western interpretation reaches its climax when it appears that even, or especially, the will of man is the center of depravation. And yet, in Rom. 7 Paul had said about that will: “The will (to do the good) is there…” (v. 18).10

The growing consensus about the nature of first-century Palestinian Judaism and the agreement that Judaism was never a religion of “legalism” has generally been followed by the observation that whatever else Paul was protesting, he was not protesting self-righteous11 efforts to merit favor before God. Nor was Paul grappling with the Western question of the introspective conscience.

The tide of opinion has clearly turned against the Lutheran-Weberian interpretation of the role and function of the law within Judaism. Protestants can no longer assume that Paul was up against a legalistic Judaism which taught that salvation was to be “merited” or “earned” by self-reliance. Nor were Paul’s opponents against faith, grace, and forgiveness. The sticking-point of the Judaizing controversy must be located elsewhere.

If Paul was not protesting against legalism in Galatians and Romans, what is it he was up against? If Jews and Judaizing Christians also believed in faith and grace, to what did Paul object? These questions have proven more difficult for scholars. Montefiore suggested that Paul was contending not with the Palestinian Judaism which would evolve into rabbinic Judaism but with a colder, more pessimistic Hellenized Judaism of the diaspora in which God was more remote and less forgiving.12However, subsequent scholarship has not vindicated this thesis. Most scholars today agree that though there were differences between Hellenistic Judaism and Palestinian Judaism, the differences were not as great as Montefiore’s suggestion would demand.

 

E.P. Sanders: “Transfer Terminology”

Other solutions are even less convincing. For some, like Heikki Räisänen,13 Paul’s criticisms of the law are not only inaccurate but contradictory as well. They are to be understood not as representing a carefully formulated doctrine but as expedient arguments derived from his conviction that Christ is Savior of the world. Similarly, E. P. Sanders concluded that Paul worked backward from solution to plight rather than from plight to solution. If salvation comes to all, both Jews and Gentiles, through Christ, then it cannot come through the law.

This approach certainly places more emphasis on the nature of the Judaizing conflict as a Jew/Gentile issue rather than a philosophical debate about human nature and divine sovereignty. Sanders writes, for instance:

The dispute in Galatians is not about “doing” as such. Neither of the opposing factions saw the requirement of “doing” to be a denial of faith. When Paul makes requirements of his converts, he does not think that he has denied faith, and there is no reason to think that Jewish Christians who specified different requirements denied faith. The supposed conflict between “doing” as such and “faith” as such is simply not present in Galatians. What was at stake was not a way of life summarized by the word “trust” versus a mode of life summarized by “requirements,” but whether or not the requirement for membership in the Israel of God would result in there being “neither Jew nor Greek.” …There was no dispute over the necessity to trust God and have faith in Christ. The dispute was about whether or not one had to be Jewish.14

For Sanders the language of justification is “transfer terminology.” To be justified is to enter into the covenant people. The distinction between “getting in” and “staying in” is important in this regard. The debate between “faith” and “law,” he writes, is a debate about entry requirements, not about life subsequent to conversion. The law is excluded as an entry requirement into the body of those who will be saved; entrance must be by faith apart from the law. Once Gentiles are “in,” however, they must behave appropriately and fulfill the law in order to retain their status. Elements of the law which create social distinctions between Jews and Gentiles — circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, food laws — also have to be discarded, even though Paul never sought a rational explanation for such a selective use of the law.

Thus in Sanders’ view Paul’s letters do not provide a consistent view of the law. Paul’s central conviction — the universal aspects of christology and soteriology, and Christian behavior — led Paul to give different answers about the law, depending on the question. “When the topic changes, what he says about the law also changes.”15 When the topic is entrance requirements, the law is excluded. When the topic is behavior, the law is to be fulfilled. The arguments to which Paul is driven to defend these answers are construed as less consistent yet.

James D.G. Dunn: “The Works of the Law”

At this point the corrective work of James D. G. Dunn becomes critical to fully appreciating Sanders’ reconstruction of Palestinian Judaism and making good sense of Paul at the same time.16 It was in fact Dunn who coined the term “the new perspective on Paul” in his landmark 1982 Manson Memorial Lecture.17

Dunn demonstrates that the language of justification is not just “transfer terminology.” There are ongoing and future elements of justification as well as the initial act of acceptance. “‘To be justified’ in Paul cannot, therefore, be treated simply as an entry or initiation formula; nor is it possible to draw a clear line of distinction between Paul’s usage and the typically Jewish covenant usage. Already, as we may observe, Paul appears a good deal less idiosyncratic and arbitrary than Sanders alleges.”18

Also unlike Sanders, Dunn provides a coherent framework for both Paul’s positive statements about the law and his negative statements. It was not the law itself which Paul criticized, but rather its misuse as a social barrier. This misuse of the law is what Paul means by the term “the works of the law”:

‘Works of law’, ‘works of the law’ are nowhere understood here, either by his Jewish interlocutors or by Paul himself, as works which earn God’s favor, as merit-amassing observances. They are rather seen as badges: they are simply what membership of the covenant people involves, what mark out the Jews as God’s people;…in other words, Paul has in view precisely what Sanders calls ‘covenantal nomism.’ And what he denies is that God’s justification depends on ‘covenantal nomism,’ that God’s grace extends only to those who wear the badge of the covenant.19

The “badges” or “works” particularly at issue were those of circumcision and food laws, not simply human efforts to do good. The ramifications of this observation for traditional Protestantism are far-reaching:

More important for Reformation exegesis is the corollary that ‘works of the law’ do not mean ‘good works’ in general, ‘good works’ in the sense disparaged by the heirs of Luther, works in the sense of achievement….In short, once again Paul seems much less a man of sixteenth-century Europe and much more firmly in touch with the reality of first-century Judaism than many have thought.20

Dunn also emphasizes the ramifications for the traditional dichotomy between faith and works:

We should not let our grasp of Paul’s reasoning slip back into the old distinction between faith and works in general, between faith and ‘good works’. Paul is not arguing here for a concept of faith which is totally passive because it fears to become a ‘work’. It is the demand for a particular work as the necessary expression of faith which he denies.21

 

N.T. Wright: “The Righteousness of God”

More recently, N.T. Wright has made a significant contribution in his little book, What Saint PaulReally Said.22 Wright’s focus is the gospel and the doctrine of justification. With incisive clarity he demonstrates that the core of Paul’s gospel was not justification by faith, but the death and resurrection of Christ and his exaltation as Lord.23 The proclamation of the gospel was the proclamation of Jesus as Lord, the Messiah who fulfilled Israel’s expectations. Romans 1:3,4, not 1:16,17, is the core of Paul’s message to the Romans, contrary to traditional thinking.24Justification is not the center of Paul’s thought, but an outworking of it:

[T]he doctrine of justification by faith is not what Paul means by ‘the gospel’. It is implied by the gospel; when the gospel is proclaimed, people come to faith and so are regarded by God as members of his people. But ‘the gospel’ is not an account of how people get saved. It is, as we saw in an earlier chapter, the proclamation of the lordship of Jesus Christ….Let us be quite clear. ‘The gospel’ is the announcement of Jesus’ lordship, which works with power to bring people into the family of Abraham, now redefined around Jesus Christ and characterized solely by faith in him. ‘Justification’ is the doctrine which insists that all those who have this faith belong as full members of this family, on this basis and no other.25

Wright brings us to this point by showing what “justification” would have meant in Paul’s Jewish context, bound up as it was in law-court terminology, eschatology, and God’s faithfulness to God’s covenant.

Specifically, Wright explodes the myth that the pre-Christian Saul was a pious, proto-Pelagian moralist seeking to earn his individual passage into heaven. Wright capitalizes on Paul’s autobiographical confessions to paint rather a picture of a zealous Jewish nationalist whose driving concern was to cleanse Israel of Gentiles as well as Jews who had lax attitudes toward the Torah. Running the risk of anachronism, Wright points to a contemporary version of the pre-Christian Saul: Yigal Amir, the zealous Torah-loyal Jew who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin for exchanging Israel’s land for peace. Wright writes:

Jews like Saul of Tarsus were not interested in an abstract, ahistorical system of salvation. They were not even primarily interested in, as we say, ‘going to heaven when they died’. (They believed in the resurrection, in which God would raise them all to share in the life of the promised renewed Israel and renewed world; but that is very different from the normal Western vision of ‘heaven’.) They were interested in the salvation which, they believed, the one true God had promised to his people Israel.26

When Saul became a Christian, Wright contends, he maintained the Jewish shape of his doctrine, but filled it with new content. The zeal of Saul the Pharisee was now the zeal of Paul the Apostle; God’s covenant faithfulness (righteousness) with regard to the covenant people was indeed fulfilled, in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.

Wright maintains that as a Christian, Paul continued to challenge paganism by taking the moral high ground of the creational monotheist. The doctrine of justification was not what Paul preached to the Gentiles as the main thrust of his gospel message; it was rather “the thing his converts most needed to know in order to be assured that they really were part of God’s people”27 after they had responded to the gospel message.

Even while taking the gospel to the Gentiles, however, Paul continued to criticize Judaism “from within” even as he had as a zealous Pharisee. But whereas his mission before was to root out those with lax attitudes toward the Torah, now his mission was to demonstrate that God’s covenant faithfulness (righteousness) has already been revealed in Jesus Christ.

At this point Wright carefully documents Paul’s use of the controversial phrase “God’s righteousness” and draws out the implications of his meaning against the background of a Jewish concept of justification. The righteousness of God and the righteousness of the party who is “justified” cannot be confused because the term bears different connotations for the judge than for the plaintiff or defendant. The judge is “righteous” if his or her judgment is fair and impartial; the plaintiff or defendant is “righteous” if the judge rules in his or her favor. Hence:

If we use the language of the law court, it makes no sense whatsoever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Righteousness is not an object, a substance or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom. For the judge to be righteous does not mean that the court has found in his favor. For the plaintiff or defendant to be righteous does not mean that he or she has tried the case properly or impartially. To imagine the defendant somehow receiving the judge’s righteousness is simply a category mistake. That is not how the language works.28

However, Wright makes the important observation that even with the forensic metaphor, Paul’s theology is not so much about the courtroom as it is about God’s love.29

Wright then goes on to flesh out the doctrine of justification in Galatians, Philippians, and Romans. The “works of the law” are not proto-Pelagian efforts to earn salvation, but rather “sabbath [keeping], food-laws, circumcision.”30 Considering the controversy in Galatia, Wright writes:

Despite a long tradition to the contrary, the problem Paul addresses in Galatians is not the question of how precisely someone becomes a Christian, or attains to a relationship with God….The problem he addresses is: should his ex-pagan converts be circumcised or not? Now this question is by no means obviously to do with the questions faced by Augustine and Pelagius, or by Luther and Erasmus. On anyone’s reading, but especially within its first-century context, it has to do quite obviously with the question of how you define the people of God: are they to be defined by the badges of Jewish race, or in some other way? Circumcision is not a ‘moral’ issue; it does not have to do with moral effort, or earning salvation by good deeds. Nor can we simply treat it as a religious ritual, then designate all religious ritual as crypto-Pelagian good works, and so smuggle Pelagius into Galatia as the arch-opponent after all. First-century thought, both Jewish and Christian, simply doesn’t work like that….

[T]he polemic against the Torah in Galatians simply will not work if we ‘translate’ it into polemic either against straightforward self-help moralism or against the more subtle snare of ‘legalism’, as some have suggested. The passages about the law only work — and by ‘work’ I mean they will only make full sense in their contexts, which is what counts in the last analysis — when we take them as references to the Jewish law, the Torah, seen as the national charter of the Jewish race.31

The debate about justification, then, “wasn’t so much about soteriology as about ecclesiology; not so much about salvation as about the church.”32

Translating the doctrine of justification into contemporary terms, Wright notes with irony that this doctrine, which was principally concerned with unity and acceptance in the body of Christ regardless of social barriers, has been one of the most divisive doctrines in the history of Christianity, particularly between Catholics and Protestants who have traditionally interpreted it as a question of precisely how salvation is to be attained.33

He also draws out the social implications of a gospel in which Jesus is proclaimed as Lord over all things (including “politics”34) and which will not allow for a rugged individualism. “The gospel creates, not a bunch of individual Christians, but a community. If you take the old route of putting justification, in its traditional meaning, at the centre of your theology, you will always be in danger of sustaining some sort of individualism.”35 Hence Wright dismantles the artificial distinctions between spiritual piety and social concern.

Conclusion

Given the increasingly fragmenting state of biblical studies today it should come as no surprise that some Pauline scholars are not interested in synthesizing their findings with contemporary theology.Stowers writes, for instance: “If I challenge the historical accuracy of some standard interpretations of the letter [Romans], it does not mean that I intend to denigrate the contributions of its great commentators. But my purposes as a historian of early Christian literature differ from the purposes of the theologians and churchmen.”36 But those of us who want our theology to be at the same time cogent and biblical cannot settle for this approach. Instead we must ask how Paul’s original meaning, in its historical context, can be appropriated by contemporary theology. In so doing we affirm that New Testament theology is very much alive and a tenable undertaking in the twenty-first century; that the canon of Scripture has continuing relevance as an authoritative guide in matters of Christian faith.

The Judaizing conflict and Paul’s doctrine of justification which grew out of it continues to be relevant to our day. But we must recognize the relevance in analogy. Applying Paul’s polemic against Judaizing to any and all “good works” is not a correct appropriation of Paul’s teaching. True as it is that no one can “earn” salvation before God, that was not Paul’s point, and applying his language that way often involves unintended consequences.37

It is a hermeneutical truism that a New Testament text must be understood and appreciated in its context before it can be applied to that of the interpreter. Romans has been preserved for the benefit of the church, but it was written to first-century Christians living in Rome. The unity of the church at that time was threatened by ethnic and social conflict. The issues then at hand — circumcision, holy days, meat sacrificed to pagan idols — are no longer issues in the church. It must be asked, then, whether comparable issues currently exist. Our answer must be in the affirmative. We no longer fight over circumcision but we do fight over worship styles and a host of other issues. Even today Christianity is confused with culture and many are unable to distinguish between the substantial and the supplemental. Paul speaks to all of this by affirming that all cultural and ethnic groups stand before God on an equal footing and that we are not justified on the basis of peripheral issues. In this light, the Pauline doctrine of justification has less to do with the individual quest for righteousness and more to do with the sociological makeup of the community of faith.

Having said that, it is important to emphasize what such a contemporary doctrine should not entail. First, such a doctrine should not be construed as one of legalism, burdening Christians with lists of arbitrary requirements and detailed standards of conduct and enforcing compliance with the threat of hell. It is in this way that the message of the Reformation may be fully appreciated in the church today. For all of his exegetical oversights and doctrinal overreaction, Martin Luther’s protests against penance, indulgences, and other abuses were entirely justified. Good Christians with troubled consciences may seek reassurance in Luther’s message of the acceptance of individuals before God apart from the extra-biblical demands of ecclesiastical hierarchies.38 In short, a socially responsible doctrine of justification must not be characterized by the concept of “earning” God’s favor. Just because Paul was not up against that idea does not mean that it is acceptable.39

Second, we cannot reconsider the Christian doctrine of justification without grappling with the meaning of “righteousness.” We have already argued that righteousness is not simply the imputed merit of another. But our criticism of traditional approaches must go beyond that. Dunn argues against the Greek view that righteousness is an impersonal, abstract standard, a measuring-stick or a balancing scale. Righteousness in Scriptural terms, he argues, grows out of covenant relationship.40 We forgive because we have been forgiven (Matt. 18:21-35); “we love because” God “first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

That is the meaning of a socially responsible and ecumenical doctrine of justification by faith.

Endnotes

1 John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.), 1972, pp. 135,136.

2 “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West,” in The Writings of St. Paul, ed. Wayne A. Meeks (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.), 1972, p. 426.

3 Cf. Frank Thielman, Paul & The Law (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 1994, p. 25; E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press), 1977, p. 33.

4 Thielman, Paul, p. 26; Sanders, Judaism, p. 33.

5 Thielman, Paul, p. 26; Sanders, Judaism, pp. 39,42-47.

6 Thielman, Paul, p. 27.

7 Thielman, Paul, p. 28; Sanders, Judaism, pp. 33,34.

8 Stendahl, “Paul,” p. 429.

9 Cf. Stanley Stowers, A Rereading of Romans (New Haven & London: Yale University Press), 1994, p. 6: “The more one learns and understands about the world of the Roman empire and the Jews in the Greek East, the more difficult it becomes to imagine the Paul known from modern scholarship in that world. The Paul of traditional theological scholarship seems to have dropped directly out of heaven.”

10 Stendahl, “Paul,” p. 432. I would hasten to add that rather than start with the highly figurative Romans 7 I would prefer to take the clearer and less enigmatic Philippians 3 as my control text for interpreting Paul’s experience with the law and work into Romans 7 and other passages from there. When we take Philippians 3 as our starting point, a much different picture emerges.

11 The phrases “a righteousness of my own” (Phil. 3:9) and “their own righteousness” (Rom. 10:3) refer not to self-righteousness but the particular righteousness of Israel in contrast to the Gentile nations. Cf. James D.G. Dunn, Romans (Word Biblical Commentary 38; Dallas, TX: Word Publishing), 1988, 2.587,595; N.T. Wright, What St. Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.), 1997, p. 124.

12 Thielman, Paul, pp. 31-33.

13 Thielman, Paul, pp. 37-39.

14 Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press), 1983, p. 159. Similarly, George Howard writes about “the belief that Paul’s concern is with a dichotomy between works and faith. Works supposedly imply a system of merit in which a man is justified by keeping the law. Faith, on the other hand, supposedly excludes works by definition and belongs to a system of grace. Faith and works are considered to be opposite ways to righteousness and are in fact incompatible. As one has so clearly put it: ‘The whole matter is now on a different plane – believing instead of achieving’….But the coexistence of works of law and faith in Christ in Jewish Christianity suggests that the two are not absolutely incompatible from the standpoint of early Christianity. To argue that the law was done away because it demanded the impossible task of legal purity, and that to accept circumcision was to assume the obligation of this impossible task and to nullify the effects of faith in Christ is out of harmony with the facts. If Jewish Christianity practised the law while accepting faith in Christ Jesus as the way to salvation, how can it be said that the early church, including Paul, considered the two as mutually exclusive principles of life?” (Paul: Crisis in Galatia [Cambridge University Press], 1979, second edition 1990, pp. 51,52.)

15 Sanders, Paul, p. 143.

16 Cf. Jesus, Paul, and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press), 1990; Romans; The Epistle to the Galatians (Black’s New Testament Commentary;Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers), 1993.

17 Reprinted as chapter 7 of Jesus, Paul, and the Law.

18 Jesus, p. 190.

19 Ibid., p. 194.

20 Ibid., pp. 194, 195.

21 Ibid., p. 198. Not surprisingly, Dunn has been criticized on this point, most notably by Stephen Westerholm (Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith: Paul and His Recent Interpreters [Grand Rapids,MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.], 1988) who focuses on Romans 4:1-5 with a view to preserving the traditional distinction between faith and “works” as human effort generally. Dunn’s response is that in Romans 4:1-5 Paul still has covenantal nomism in view (in keeping with the context) and that Paul’s play on words need not imply that his opponents believed in “payment-earning work” (Jesus,pp. 238,239; Romans 1.228,229). For another treatment of Romans 4 from the new perspective, seeAbraham in Romans 4: The Father of All Who Believe).

22 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.), 1997.

23 Ibid., pp. 45,88,113,114,151.

24 Ibid., pp. 52-54,126.

25 Ibid., pp. 132,133.

26 Ibid., pp. 32,33.

27 Ibid., p. 94.

28 Ibid., p. 98.

29 Ibid., p. 110.

30 Ibid., p. 132.

31 Ibid., pp. 120-122.

32 Ibid., p. 119.

33 Ibid., pp. 158,159.

34 Ibid., pp. 153-157,164.

35 Ibid., pp. 157,158.

36 Romans, p. 4.

37 Cf. Wright’s statement that the “popular view of ‘justification by faith’, though not entirely misleading, does not do justice to the richness and precision of Paul’s doctrine, and indeed distorts it at various points….Briefly and baldly put, if you start with the popular view of justification, you may actually lose sight of the heart of the Pauline gospel [i.e., Jesus’ death and resurrection]; whereas if you start with the Pauline gospel itself you will get justification in all its glory thrown in as well”(Paul, p. 113).

38 Cf. James D.G. Dunn and Alan M. Suggate, The Justice of God: A Fresh Look at the Old Doctrine of Justification by Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.), 1993, p. 8.

39 Cf. Wright, Paul, p. 116.

40 Cf. Dunn, Galatians, pp. 134-135; Dunn and Suggate, Justice, pp. 32ff.

51 Comments

  1. Kazumba Charles says:

    Great job!! reading this has opened up my understanding to a new and higher level. Everything just makes sense and very helpful in my Christian walk. i am a student of the word doing my doctorate in biblical studies, this is very helpful to me.

    I appreciate your work, God bless

  2. John Ford says:

    Thank you for this essay – I think I am beginning to understand, at last, something of the character of Paul and his message.

  3. […] come back from an Evangelical meeting and stated that the next big argument brewing is the “new perspective on Paul.”  In other words, they are looking for the next disagreement to fight […]

  4. Larry Newman says:

    Mark, please possibly answer a question, put analogically, if, as in modern credit payment methods, I need not pay for the item in order to get it, but I must pay for it in order to keep it, how is it a gift?

    You haven’t avoided works of the Law by just asserting them to be only circumcision and food laws. Certainly the Pharisees advocated more than those in the Gospels! The works of the Law include loving the Lord with all our hearts, souls, etc. The works of the Law are all the works demanded of the Law, not just the identity marker rules!

    That’s why Paul’s comment in Galatians 3 is so telling, quoting the Law: cursed is everyone who does not abide by ALL the things written in the book of the Law to perform them.

    So neither is the criticism of Paul sufficiently exhausted upon those who advocate a keeping of law to get in, because the Law has much to say about what must be kept within the demands of the covenant; the criticism of Paul extends to those who rely on the works of the law at any point, even to stay in. That is Paul’s point about “if sons, then heirs.” Notice how the heirs are designated, not by law-keeping to stay in — but according to promise alone! Heirs, according to promise. If it gets a religion off the hook to merely allow a free entrance, and make the requirement to stay in be the keeping of law, then, Galatians 3:18 would be false.

  5. markmattison says:

    Larry, your question presupposes Sanders’ distinction between “getting in” and “staying in,” which not all proponents of the new perspective (such as Dunn) would articulate.

    It also (arguably) presupposes a classical Protestant paradigm which privileges marketplace metaphors, a paradigm to which I’m not particularly drawn. Since I don’t share your views of divine sovereignty and human (in)ability, I find your question difficult to relate to.

  6. Larry Newman says:

    Let’s begin then with your commenting regarding Dunn. In it, perhaps, but not clearly so, summarizing Dunn, you say “The ‘badges’ or ‘works’ particularly at issue were those of circumcision and food laws, not simply human efforts to do good.” Upon “this observation,” as you call it, rides ramifications for “traditional Protestantism.”

    This “observation” is the swallowing of a camel! The “all” of Galatians 3:10 means all, not merely those who did not get circumcized or follow the food laws.

    Whether people care for introspective theologies and Western stricken consciences should not make us skewer the text out of antogonism to them, any more than it shoud make us bend it to serve them. The fact is that Galatians 3 expresses the covenant with Abraham as based on a promise, and the scope of the curse is completely explicit: all who are “of” the works of the Law. This is ontology language, not behavior language: a fact obscured by the English translations that use active verbs for the group Paul describes on the one hand (“of the works of the Law”) and the other (“of faith”). Not only that! It is the Law itself, not any one or two portions of it, that Paul says is not of faith! 3:12.

    It’s interesting that Wright’s use of Galatians 3 does not expound Paul’s description of Gen 15:6 as promise to Abraham, although he makes much of its application to the Gentiles, which is very nice. Galatians 3, however, makes huge emphasis of the promise nature of what God said to Abraham.

    It was for the sake of all concerned, both Jew and Gentile, that the law be shown as to not nullify the promise! If the Law nullified the promise for the Jew, the unity of the body in Christ would be just as impossible as if the world would need to come under the Law.

    In our zeal to not be smugglers of the strange gods of introspection, Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, traditional Protestantism into Galatia, we may commit the common fallacy that some idea “must be” wrong, because it’s like that other idea over there. Let the chips fall. Paul was advocating a promise-based inheritance.

    Mark, try and stick to what people say, not what you perhaps infer or assume they (I!) say, or even what people have said in the past. People may come to your blog with the desire to be corrected, too, you know!

  7. markmattison says:

    Larry, no offense was intended — you posed a question and I ventured my best response. And although I’m hesitant to engage in open-ended debate or to respond to every comment posted here in an attempt to “get in the last word,” hopefully these comments will prove useful in the ongoing dialogue.

    To begin with, it should be easy enough to judge how accurately I’ve summarized Dunn’s Manson Memorial Lecture since, fortunately, it’s now available in its entirety online — thanks to the permission of SPCK. It should also be added that Dunn has continued to elaborate and nuance his thesis over the last thirty years, and that during that time he has clarified on several occasions his position that whereas the works of the law “particularly at issue” in Galatians 2 “were those of circumcision and food laws,” nevertheless the term in principle was broad enough to include all requirements of the law (cf., e.g., his Black’s New Testament Commentary The Epistle to the Galatians, Hendrickson Publishers, 1993, pp. 135-137).

    Your comments above address Dunn’s approach to Galatians 2 on the basis of Galatians 3. Consequently, I highly recommend a review of his follow-up paper “Works of the Law and the Curse of the Law (Gal. 3.10-14),” first published in New Testament Studies in 1985. In that essay he wrote: “In ‘The New Perspective on Paul’ I was conscious that my argument amounted to little more than an exegesis of Galatians 2.16. Several respondents observed that if my exegesis were to gain in credibility it would have to make sense of Galatians 3.10-14. Galatians 3.10-14 does indeed provide a substantial test case, and to it we now turn” (cf. Jesus, Paul, and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians, SPCK, 1990, p. 225). This essay is also available in Dunn’s newest anthology The New Perspective on Paul: Revised Edition published by Eerdmans in 2008, but the earlier SPCK collection of essays includes an additional note not available in the most recent collection.

    I essentially reiterated Dunn’s approach to Galatians 3 in my article “Confronting Legalism or Exclusivism? Reconsidering Key Pauline Passages,” which (along with my “Summary” article above) was originally written more than twelve years ago but revised as recently as 2004. Although I still very much stand by my conviction, expressed in that article, that it is anachronistic to read Galatians and Romans as if divine sovereignty and human inability were Paul’s key concerns, nevertheless since that time I have become sensitive to the criticism that the recontextualization of Paul’s debate as an intra-church controversy can be construed as simply substituting one negative stereotype of Judaism (legalism) for another (exclusivism) to the degree that what Paul criticized is considered to be essentially Jewish. Hence my willingness to consider other approaches, as reflected in my more recent book reviews and my interest in the Leuven project.

    Suffice to say, I very much believe that the advent of the new perspective on Paul within Protestant circles was crucial to paving the way for more creative work in interpreting Paul’s letters in less anachronistic terms, and that this work is far from complete. It’s my continuing hope that The Paul Page can play a constructive role in moving that dialogue forward.

    Which brings me to my final comment. Although The Paul Page began as a personal web page about ten years ago, even from the start I always tried to make it as cosmopolitan as possible, often trying to include as many voices in the dialogue as I could. Today, although the web site has admittedly taken the form of a glorified weblog, it is no longer “my” site (or blog) but rather belongs to Logos. Not only am I no longer the “owner” of the site, I’m no longer the only editor either, as The Paul Page is developing an editorial staff. It’s my sincere hope that these key changes will help The Paul Page to expand and continue to develop into far more than one person’s personal web venture and become an even more effective tool in facilitating Pauline studies.

  8. Perhaps I do not see the big picture. I’m strongly inclined to favor the New Perspective but I have some problems, one of which is this: When Paul declares in Gal 5:3 “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law”, isn’t he explicitly repudiating the New Perspective thesis, i.e., that the works Paul is contemplating includes both the ritual and holy portions of the Torah?

    God’s Blessings

    Michael

  9. markmattison says:

    Michael, thanks for your question, though I must honestly admit I don’t entirely understand it. For instance, I personally am not sure what portions of the Torah would be “ritual” and what would be “holy.” Are you perhaps referring to what some Christians describe as a distinction between “the ceremonial law” and “the moral law”? Tell you what — I’ll e-mail you directly and try to get a better sense of your question.

  10. Theodore A. Jones says:

    Dearest group in this discussion. I think you have overlooked, or would rather ignore, an important fact. According to Heb. 7:12b a change to the law of God was made AFTER Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. It is this change that you have cited as “God’s righteousness” and what Jesus meant when he said that his purpose was to fulfill the law. Paul refers to this change Rom. 2:13, “It is NOT those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who OBEY the law who will be declared righteous.” He further explains to you “The law was added so that the trespass (of Jesus’ crucifixion) might increase.” Rom. 5:20 So then I will explain to you what the gospel (righteousness) of God actually is which will probably result in a discussing rather than discussion.
    1. The righteousness of God, the only Way you can escape from death, has two components. An oath and a law. You will find this mentioned in Heb. as two immutable things.
    2. This is the oath. “And for Your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from EACH man too I will demand an accounting for the LIFE of your fellow man. Gen. 9:5 NIV
    3. The law Paul refers to in Rom. 2:13 & 5:20 is the Acts 2:38 command, the word Repent, specifically “the Lord’s command given through your apostles” the word which has been added to the law. Another reference to making a change to the law, even tho oblique, is 1 Cor. 2:6-8. If the true reason for Jesus’ crucifixion could have been determined by any one from any source prior to him being crucified he would have never been crucified and making a change to the law would have been impossible.
    4. The imputation of the righteousness of God is only possible for you through your faith to obey God in a particular proscribed lawful Way or you will commit a sin for which it is impossible for you to be forgiven. See Heb. 10:26
    5. The only Way any person is received or accepted into the new covenant that has been perfected by Jesus’ crucifixion is by this Way of obeying God. The Acts 2:38 command, the added law, can only be obeyed by confessing directly to God that you are sorry Jesus’ lost his life by bloodshed by his crucifixion. And be baptized in water in into this Way in order to be forgiven of ALL sins. However if you won’t obey God this Way upon reading or hearing that you must you deliberately disobey a direct command of God’s spirit for which there is no forgiveness possible. “Except your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” The only possible way for you to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees is that an established reason of fact existed for God to allow a man to enter the sanctuary of his God and add to the law.

    “It is NOT those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who OBEY the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13

  11. Titus says:

    Mark,

    Thank you very much for this thorough essay. It was very helpful and I recommend it to anyone as a clear, brief introduction to the NPP. However, there is one thing in particular that I got snagged on towards the end. I obviously know very little about the NPP so I was hoping you could clarify this idea of a “socially responsible doctrine of justification”.

    I was right there with you every step of the way – at least I think I was – until near the end when you quoted Wright saying, “The gospel creates, not a bunch of individual Christians, but a community. If you take the old route of putting justification, in its traditional meaning, at the centre of your theology, you will always be in danger of sustaining some sort of individualism.”

    I understand you were simply summing up how Wright took his insight further into the possible dangers that such misguided theology risks; however, I fail to make the connection. Obviously, I need to read his book – and I intend to. But I was wondering if I missed something you clearly pointed out that would explain this somewhat ‘leap’ from the NPP’s corrections on Paul to the resulting new (more accurate) message of the Scripture being about ‘creating community’ and ‘social justification’.

    Now, I understand that the NPP’s message is, as you wrote, that “The doctrine of justification was not what Paul preached to the Gentiles as the main thrust of his gospel message; it was rather ‘the thing his converts most needed to know in order to be assured that they really were part of God’s people'”. So Paul’s focus was about how the Jews can understand why the Gentiles will be INCLUDED; that is, how their much hoped for and sacred COMMUNITY of the KINGDOM is getting larger, but not with more Jews but with those who don’t fit that ethnic, religious, or social description at all. Instead, there is a more common ground element that is the most important aspect about a citizen of the Kingdom. But I am still confused as to why all of this is considered a ‘social justification’. And why is this social justification a less self-righteous or individualistic justification than the traditional view?

    I guess my reaction really comes down to a belief that I don’t see how any of what Paul or Jesus is saying is anything but confronting the individual and a message of hope for the individual and his personal salvation.

  12. markmattison says:

    Titus, thank you for your question. In addition to Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said, you may also want to check out a little book by James D.G. Dunn and Alan M. Suggate, The Justice of God: A Fresh Look at the Old Doctrine of Justification by Faith (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 1993. Both of these books spell out in more detail the social dimension of the doctrine of justification from the new perspective on Paul.

  13. AC Joubert says:

    Great article! Need to do a lot more reading before I could possibly understand the whole of this “new”(1977) perspective. But this is truely helpful to get started. Thanks Mark!

  14. Anonymous says:

    […] source […]

  15. […] Gentile that is causing problems in the church in Rome. Who’d have thought — the “New Perspective on Paul” in the fourth […]

  16. […] a great deal on the doctrine of justification in the work of N.T. Wright and the [controversial] New Perspective on Paul (NPP).  Wright, the former Bishop of Durham, is now the Chair of New Testament and Early […]

  17. Kepha says:

    One big criticism I have with Krister Stendahl’s work is that I can’t see a “robust conscience” in Romans 7. Rather than the “introspective conscience of the West” being read into Paul, I see Paul as one of the shapers of “the introspective conscience of the West”–and I love Paul for it. Add to that, one thing very “Jewish” that I see in Paul is a struggling conscience. Try living in certain parts of the Far East, where Christian influence is weak. THAT’s where you’ll find some overly robust consciences.

  18. John says:

    Hi Mark,
    Really appreciate your summary of NPP. I am hopeful that this might open the door to ending the old conflict over the salvific role of baptism. The main objection, historically, is the unfortunate categorization of baptism as a meritorious work. The second major objection (ironically championed by J. D. G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit) is the forced dichotomy between water-baptism and Spirit-baptism (I understand Pentecost as the true and essential BiHS, with water baptism for sin remission and reception of the HS as the consequence). Some evangelical scholarship has shown a renewed openness to this salvific role which, ironically, was quite present in the writings of the earliest reformers, Luther and Calvin.
    God bless your life and labors in Christ Jesus,
    John

  19. David says:

    “We have already argued that righteousness is not simply the imputed merit of another”.

    Sounds as if to me that you are arguing with Scripture, especially Romans chapter 4, in regards to salvation righteousness.

    And if you are talking about sanctification righteousness Romans 8 addresses that:

    For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
    Notice please it is “fulfilled in us” not by us.

  20. Justin Locke says:

    Does anybody think it is slightly ironic that this perspective is based on first century Judaism whenever Romans and Galatians were written to Gentiles. They would not have understood the intricacies of first century Judaism so the terms Paul used with them would have been for a Gentile audience.

  21. John says:

    Hi Justin,
    Paul’s gentile Christians were being beguiled by judaizing interlopers. Paul responded by insisting his work and preaching consonant with the Cross, and by insisting with at least equal force that the judaizing agitators were not.

    The issue is not first century Judaism, and the intricacies to be found between its factions. The issue is between Judaism, as it was presented by the Judaizers, and the “Judaism” many moderns think to be a rough equivalent to the Roman Catholicism of Luther’s day. In Paul’s discussion, “salvation by works” meant forcing gentiles to adopt Judaism as a prerequisite to entering the church as Christians. In our day (since Luther), “salvation by works” means works-of-merit by which one tries to earn his own salvation.

    The point is, the new perspective is based on the awareness that Paul’s issues were not at all the same as Luther’s. The gentile audience of his letters would have been at least as befuddled by a Lutheran caricature of Judaism as they would have been by the theological particularities of Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes, and other first century sects. Neither of these, however, is the issue which they faced and which Paul addressed.

    Hope this helps,
    John

  22. Jason McNutt says:

    Justin,

    I agree with your point but I am more concerned in this conversation that convenant mediation (which I believe is taught in the Bible) is being promoted exclusively at the expense of substitution. The OT clearly has both a mediator as well as substitution language which Christ fulfills. It is not one or the other but both and much more. Substitution is not a foreign concept to Jews or a western invention.

  23. Vijay Tagore says:

    I have no comments on the article as such but just a real question to all of us who support the NPP – ask yourself deep down in your heart and observe the people around you – can you really maintain your standing before God if it were not for Christ’s sake?

    I think NPP is such a waste of time and a challange to the deep roots of Christianity. Remember, Satan can use even our intellect and academic achievments to defame Christ’s name and His work on our behalf.

    The Bible is no debtor to any man’s support to prove its teachings. It is God’s Word – crystal clear!

  24. […] a major transformation via the groundbreaking work of N. T. Wright and other scholars of the New Perspective on Paul (actually, a recovery of the original pre-Roman, pre-Reformation perspective), which may end up […]

  25. […] relationship between Jews and Gentiles. (Although, if I’m not mistaken, some of themes of the “new perspective” on Paul seem like they might provide support to this kind of […]

  26. alfiesaden says:

    hi – is it just me !! can any one explain why when i type in the firefox browser “www.thepaulpage.com” i get a different site yet whe i type it in google its ok? could this be a bug in my system or is any one else having same probs ?
    alf

  27. Jeremy Einfeld says:

    Alfiesaden,

    The Paul page has recently changed to a new server, it could be that FireFox still has the old location saved or cached in some way. If you hit Ctrl+Shift+Del, you can clear out the “Cache” option and see if it brings you to the current location of ThePaulPage.com. If that doesn’t work you can try clearing the cookies as well, but afterwards you will have to log into other sites that you visit.

  28. […] two years ago M.M. Mattison wrote a helpful introductory article on the NPP titled, “A Summary of the New Perspective on Paul” which list four major contributors and their key ideas. These are Krister Stendahl‘s […]

  29. […] I posted in another thread about the New Perspective on Paul. It's a convincing perspective. A Summary of the New Perspective on Paul | The Paul Page I just got done watching this video that's in line somewhat with the New Perspective called 'Paul […]

  30. […] to the covenant people was indeed fulfilled, in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. A Summary of the New Perspective on Paul | The Paul Page The New Perspective from Paul is one that is indeed very interesting to consider…..and NT […]

  31. Bobby Garringer says:

    You’re too eager for the new perspective. You cite nothing substantial from the other side.

  32. […] besides for some Conservatives. Also, there is a general theme. This is a relevant cite: A Summary of the New Perspective on Paul | The Paul Page As for their being differences, you will find that in the old perspective as well. So really, it […]

  33. Anna Foster says:

    Now, I understand that the NPP’s message is, as you wrote, that “The doctrine of justification was not what Paul preached to the Gentiles as the main thrust of his gospel message; it was rather ‘the thing his converts most needed to know in order to be assured that they really were part of God’s people”. Thanks for the article..

  34. I am still studying the issues, but it’s funny that you mention scripture as justification for positions. I come from a solidly Reformed background, but as I read the two views, one thing that struck me was how much more “biblical” Wright’s view seemed than Piper’s. And I don’t mean “biblical” as in “supported by scripture,” but just “biblical” in terms of “bible-y.”

    Wright’s view resonates so much more with the testimony of scripture to me—with discussions of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—rather than Piper’s understanding of a God more of time, space, and transcendence. All of these are true of God, but one view just seems so much more “bibley” =). And in that sense, more “biblical.”

  35. Well written essay. It was worth reading and gave a lot of information about Christianity. It opened my eyes about bible and explained so many new things to me.

  36. I am definitely not a veteran to make any comments on the essay on NPP. But a question to all of you out there. Don’t you really think that Christ took pain to save humanity. NPP seems to surpassing the Bible. The Bible is a great scripture with noble preachings to mankind. Lord saves all his fellow men . It is probably the Satan’s misdemeanour.

  37. Maria Morris says:

    Religion has always been at contradiction to changes and then there came allegations of overruling the God. I personally found the scriptures to be open and rational in their approaches. If some of them are re analysed so be it but human faith is stronger than anything else, it will survive.

  38. a_seed says:

    Hi Mark, this is a very good summary. I have translated the major portion of it to Chinese, and introduce it to Chinese churches. Keep up good works!

  39. […] first, not by theologians, but by a group of British New Testament scholars vying to establish a New Perspective on Paul. This over against the traditional “Lutheran” view—I put “Lutheran” in scare quotes here […]

  40. Wil says:

    Great article…

  41. Wil says:

    Great article… nice work

  42. Mark I think in every critical discourse there has to be faith, whether it is the faith of protagonist or antagonist is immaterial. Once there is faith there will be willingness to understand rather than contradict, so even an atheist can also be greatest disciple; with time we always need to revisit old teachings, they will appear in new meaning, let it be so here. Let the newer version be discussed worldwide and we will come to decisions ourselves.

  43. Kaden says:

    Hey Mark,
    You give very nice summary and now I am understanding little bit the character of Paul and his message. Your blog is surely helping me getting these things. Thanks a lot and please keep writing these kind of material that I can better understand Paul’s message.

  44. Thomas says:

    Hello Mark,
    Thanks for summarize Paul’s perspective very beautifully. I am reading Herbew Bible by my own for few years now and just started The new perspective on Paul and I am sure your blog is going to help me a lot to understand it correctly.

  45. This is good because this opens up Christianity to other religions also. It talks of tolerance, patience, understanding and clear and precise ways of explaining things that can help people of other faith also to understand and correlate. In this time of impatience towards others, such clarity can make people understand that there is no superior or inferior belief in divinity all are equal and forgiveness is the best of practices.

  46. Jackson Anna says:

    Great Post!!!
    I agree with E.P. Sanders that this approach is contradictory. I read lot of books on Human nature. Human nature is little bit different than showing here and he always trying to go towards faith rather than laws at the time of entrance.

  47. […] seeks to deal with why Judaism has viewed him in such a negative light and how the so-called ‘New Perspective on Paul‘ does not go far enough in their re-framing of the Apostle because they are still working […]

  48. […] as related to what has been called “The New Perspective,” which is nicely summarized here. My recent blog post titled “Did Paul Form a New Religion Called Christianity” […]

  49. […] proponents of the “new perspective” on Paul, Tillich, Lutheran theologian though he was, saw the limitations of the traditional […]

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