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Studies in the Pauline Epistles: Essays in Honor of Douglas J. Moo

Book Review

Matthew S. Harmon and Jay E. Smith, editors, Zondervan, 2014, 320 pp.

This Festschrift for Doug Moo, after a biographical appreciation of the honoree, is divided into three major segments: “Exegeting Paul,” “Paul’s Use of Scripture and the Jesus Tradition,” and “Pauline Scholarship and His Contemporary Significance.” Because the interchanges between James Dunn, Stephen Westerholm, and N. T. Wright will be of particular interest to readers of The Paul Page, comment on them, as they constitute a subunit within the book, will be reserved for the final portion of the review.

Part One is comprised of six essays. The first is by Ardel B. Caneday, “Already Reigning in Life through One Man: Recovery of Adam’s Abandoned Dominion (Romans 5:12-21).” Caneday proposes that the revealing of Jesus Christ brings the mystery of God’s grand drama of redemption to a climax, though its consummation awaits. The obedient Christ, now raised from the dead, radiates light by which the dual dominion of sin and death brought about by Adam’s disobedience is vanquished. Caneday writes that it is from this latter-day fulfillment with the revelation of Christ Jesus that Paul portrays two antithetical kingdoms engaged in a death struggle concerning Adam’s descendants. “Christ’s act of obedience has already triumphed and even now gains ascendancy over death’s sustained and pervasive dominion brought about because of Adam’s failure to reign over his desires, which also evoked the Creator’s curse when he subjected the creation to corruption” (p. 41). This applies to contemporary environmentalist activism, which seeks to “save the world!” Yet Adam’s descendants are powerless to redeem the earth from the curse: this will only be done by God’s redemptive activism in Christ.

The second is Chris A. Vlachos’ contribution, entitled “The Catalytic Operation of the Law and Moral Transformation in Romans 6-7.” The gist of the study is that if Paul’s designation “old self” in Romans 6:6 alludes to Adam, then we would discover Edenic allusions occupying territory surrounding Paul’s catalytic notion of law. Moreover, if the “you” of Romans 7:4 who “died to the law” is identified with the “old Adamic self,” then this would not only appear to link Edenic themes to the catalytic operation of the law, but would also account for the decisive means by which deliverance from the dominion of sin is achieved. The main value of the piece is the tabulation of allusions to Eden in Romans 7:7-11 and the association of law and sin in Romans 6-7.

The third entry is by Jonathan A. Moo, “Of Parents and Children: 1 Corinthians 4:15-16 and Life in the Family of God.” Moo provides a survey of Paul’s paternal imagery, especially as it bears on his authority as an apostle of Christ. It is observed that Paul rarely uses the language of “commanding” or “ordering” in his instruction to his churches. Rather, the stress normally falls on the love of Paul the father. The imagery is not unique to the apostle, simply because of precedents in the ancient world whereby teachers could relate to their disciples as a father to children. Paul’s paternity, however, is distinctive in that it is modeled on the love and compassion of God the Father, now fully revealed in Christ, through whom we all share the status of God’s adopted children. Consequently, Paul is convinced that in this new family of God all human claims to power and authority are relativized and put on a different footing. The bottom line is stated in these terms: “Though an apostle and parent to the churches he founded, he relates to them in sacrificial love as a brother, a slave of Christ, and indeed—like the one whom he follows—a slave of all” (p. 73).

Fourth, Jay E. Smith takes up “A Slogan in 1 Corinthians 6:18b: Pressing the Case.” Smith renews a previous attempt to persuade Doug Moo that this text, “flee immorality,” represents a slogan or maxim of the Corinthian church. The argument proceeds along three lines. The first is the indefinite relative clause as a sweeping, definitive assertion. The second is the noun harmartēma as non-Pauline. The third is comprised of indications that the dialogue between Paul and the Corinthians continues. The presentation is very detailed and scholarly, but in the end, Moo is probably right to resist Smith’s conclusions.

In the fifth place, D. A. Carson pursues “Mirror-Reading with Paul and against Paul: Galatians 2:11-14 as a Test Case.” Carson surveys possible scenarios of the relation of “certain men from James” and “those of the circumcision” and submits that a mirror-reading of the text yields the conclusion that “those of the circumcision,” of whom Peter was afraid, are the persecuting Jews in Jerusalem, and what he fears is the violence they are perpetrating on his fellow believers in the city. An editorial lapse is evident in that the footnote numbers in the main text, commencing with 91, do not correspond to those of the footnotes themselves, commencing with 1.

The first division of the book is rounded off by the essay of Verlyn D. Verbrugge, “Greek Grammar and the Translation of Philippians 2:12.” Verbrugge relates Doug Moo’s work as chairman of the committee on Bible translation (CBT), as followed up by a presentation of the various renderings of Philippians 2:12. He concludes that the words, “not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence,” are to be connected with the imperative “work out” (“your own salvation”). Paul writes not to compliment the Philippian Christians on their past behavior, but to motivate them to keep living day by day as saved believers.

Part Two commences with Craig L. Blomberg, “Quotations, Allusions, and Echoes of Jesus in Paul.” Blomberg observes that the absence of direct quotations of the sayings of Jesus in the letters of Paul has fascinated scholars for generations. One common way of compensating for this absence has been to identify probable or at least possible allusions to Jesus’ teaching and then to highlight the various reasons why Paul would not have employed more formal citations. Yet, after a survey of scholarly criteria for identifying OT references by Paul, Blomberg relates that the question today is not whether Paul had fairly extensive knowledge of the Jesus tradition, but rather just how extensive it was. Integral to Blomberg’s approach is an interaction with Richard Hays’ seven criteria for identifying OT echoes. That his conclusions are somewhat vague would follow naturally enough from the rather slippery character of the subject matter itself.

Matthew S. Harmon’s contribution is “Allegory, Typology, or Something Else? Revisiting Galatians 4:21-5:1.” Harmon surveys Galatians 4:21-5:1 within its literary context and then pursues the meaning of the verb allēgoreō, with the proposal that it is best rendered as “these things have a deeper meaning.” Differing somewhat with Moo’s reading of allēgoreō, Harmon submits that Paul perceives an additional meaning in Genesis 16-21 that is legitimately in the text but only recognizable when read through the lens of Isaiah 54:1. In other words, “Paul is not so much adding meaning to Genesis 16-21 but rather exposing meaning that lay hidden until further revelation” (p. 158). His points are persuasive enough.

Grant R. Osborne pursues “Hermeneutics and Paul: Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:7-10 as a Test Case.” Osborne presents a detailed exegesis of Psalm 68, whose central feature is God depicted as the “Divine Warrior” who has won the victory and now ascends to his newly established throne on Zion. As result of his conquest, this Warrior takes many captives behind his chariot on the ascent to the heights of Mount Zion. Thereafter comes a discussion of Ps 68:18 in Eph 4:8, a crux interpretum for issues of the OT in the NT. The primary issue, as Osborne explains, is why Paul reverses the psalmist’s language from “receiving gifts from men” to “he gave gifts to men.” After outlining three primary options for the meaning, Osborne opts for the view that Paul changes “received” to “gave” on the basis of Psalm 68 as a whole. In a nutshell, the Psalm prefigures Christ’s exaltation and defeat of the evil powers and then the distribution of his gifts to the church. Perhaps one could add that in light of the Christ-event, a reversal has taken place in salvation history, from receiving to giving. See additionally Romans 11:26.

Part Three begins with Robert W. Yarbrough’s contribution, “Salvation History (Heilsgeschichte) and Paul: Comments on a Disputed but Essential Category.” Yarbrough first of all presses the need to revisit salvation history and then canvasses the theological dimension of history in the light of revelation, followed by salvation history and the substance of Scripture. The remainder of the essay is occupied with a survey of the benefits of a salvation-historical hermeneutic, as subsumed under nine headings. All in all, this is a timely reaffirmation of not only the desirability of a salvation-historical hermeneutic, but its necessity. Writes Yarbrough: “Because our lives are irreducibly historical in origin, nature, texture, and destiny, salvation-historical understanding is a necessary component of a reading of Scripture capable of mediating the saving Pauline gospel and the unfolding will of God to his people in their respective temporal settings” (p. 197).

Yarbrough’s essay is followed by G. K. Beale, “The Eschatology of Paul.” Beale presents a summary of the OT and Jewish background for Paul’s eschatology as followed by a general overview of Paul’s own eschatology. After these survey materials, Beale deals with specific examples in Paul: Christ’s resurrection, the Holy Spirit in relation to resurrection and regeneration, the Holy Spirit and sanctification, justification, wherein Beale relates that justification paves the way for the new creation, Paul’s negative and positive views of the law in the light of the eschatological new creation, and ecclesiology. The conclusion is that Paul was thoroughly influenced by the idea that the latter days had begun but were not yet consummated, especially with respect to the new creation. In practical terms, “Nothing on this corruptible earth can thwart the love of incorruptible new creatures who live in the latter-day new creation in Christ” (p. 213).

Thomas R. Schreiner considers “Understanding Truth according to Paul.” In succession, Schreiner takes up suppression of the truth in Romans and Ephesians, how unbelievers fail to comprehend true wisdom, God’s granting of understanding, particularly through the Holy Spirit, the gospel as revealed to Paul, and the battle for the mind. The implications of Paul’s teaching on the mind are summarized by a quotation of Peter Stuhlmacher: “theological thought is in the first instance listening thought, and only then critical thought” (p. 273).

The final paper is by Mark A. Seifrid, “Paul’s Message Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: For Doug Moo, in Gratitude.” The piece amounts to little more than a homily, although its main points are valid and of practical use. It is not surprising, however, that Seifrid hurls a barb at the “New Perspective” (p. 281).

As noted above, the trilogy of essays by Dunn, Westerholm, and Wright form a unit. The one by Dunn, “What’s Right about the Old Perspective on Paul,” is summed up under three heads: (1) Luther rediscovered the saving righteousness of God; (2) he reasserted the fundamental role of faith in human relations with God; (3) he reminded us that human beings cannot earn or achieve a relationship with God by their own efforts. Luther was thus “bang on target” (p. 215) regarding a number of points. For one, righteousness is a, if not the, key to understanding Paul’s gospel. The point was reinforced by the later realization that to understand Paul’s teaching it is necessary to go behind the classical model of “righteousness” to the Hebrew concept that Paul would have taken for granted, namely, that righteousness is a relational concept, “the meeting of obligations laid on the individual by the relationship of which he or she is part” (p. 216).

Consequently, the primary reference is to God’s fulfillment of the obligation he took on himself in creating mankind, and particularly in the calling of Abraham and the election of Israel to be his people. This means that God’s righteousness is simply the fulfillment of his covenant obligation as Israel’s God in delivering, saving, and vindicating Israel, despite Israel’s own failure. This is why so often in the Psalms and Isaiah “righteousness” is best translated as “deliverance,” “vindication,” or “saving acts.” Thus, the old perspective was right in its rediscovery and emphasis on God’s righteousness as not only central to the gospel but as also expressive of the gospel. Where the old perspective did not go far enough, however, was in its failure to recognize the covenantal character of this righteousness.

Another point on which the old perspective was correct, writes Dunn, was the verb dikaioō, which pertains to the verdict of acquittal or a change of status as opposed to statement of character—to “count or reckon as righteous” rather than to make righteous.” The weakness, however, is that the old perspective focused too much on the legal metaphor and ignored or subordinated Paul’s other metaphors and images of how salvation is to be achieved.

Furthermore, the old perspective was right in regard to Luther’s insistence that for Paul justification is “by” and “through” faith alone. According to Dunn, “Paul was certainly confronting a deeply held conviction that what made a person acceptable to God included obedience to God’s commandments. An individual could not be a member of the people of God, a sharer in God covenant blessings, unless they observed the terms of that covenant, the covenant law” (pp. 219-20). This principle on which Paul insisted is not to be underestimated. On the one hand, faith is simply trust, acknowledging complete dependence on God. On the other hand, Paul reacted against the legitimate theological corollaries his fellow Jewish believers drew from their common Scriptures. What he objected to was the way in which this willingness, readiness, and eagerness to obey the law of the covenant distracted from and undermined the more fundamental principle of a relationship with God dependent, on the human side, only on faith, openness to, and acceptance of the grace of God and reliance on his promise. The problem, maintains Dunn, was “faith” elided too readily into “faithfulness.” Dunn thus surmises: “So here again the old perspective was on the same wave length with Paul in insisting that justification was by faith—alone” (p. 222). That said, the one point of weakness with the old perspective here is its assumption that the Judaism of Paul’s day, in its insistence on the importance of faithfulness, had forgotten that Israel’s faithfulness began from its acceptance of and as a response to the covenant promise to Israel, termed famously by E. P. Sanders “covenantal nomism.”

Finally, a debt is owed to the old perspective for its reminder that salvation is not and cannot be self-achieved. The problem, though, is that the old reading of Paul began to fall out of step with Paul in its failure to pay enough attention to the context in which the apostle uses the phrase “from works of the law,” one that bespeaks “living like a Jew” (Gal 2:14), with all that is entailed in that phrase.

The bottom line, writes Dunn, is that “The new perspective by no means replaces the old perspective, but the debate it has fostered cleans the lenses of both and allows the Pauline perspective to be seen in more of its idiosyncratic fullness” (p. 229).

The follow-up is by Westerholm, “What’s Right about the New Perspective on Paul.” Westerholm begins with a sketch of the old perspective/new perspective debate, with the hope expressed that the discussion can be advanced beyond the “one-sided polemical stage that (apart from other failings) long ago grew stale” (p. 231). Thereafter, the essay proceeds, first of all, in terms of “Judaism and Grace,” wherein an overview of scholarly opinion is related respecting the work of Sanders and its aftermath. Westerholm acknowledges that Sanders’ positive contribution lies not so much in particulars of his depiction of Judaism as in the serious effort he made to understand Judaism on its own terms, as based on its own literature. “As an (almost immediate) result, it became no longer acceptable to perpetuate earlier caricatures of Judaism with little basis in the texts. Even Sanders’s sharpest critics acknowledge that depiction of Judaism prior to Paul and Palestinian Judaism were often misleading, at times maliciously so” (pp. 235-36).

Next comes “The Social Setting of Pauls Doctrine.” After another synopsis of debate between old and new perspectives, Westerholm notes that both “perspectives” go their separate ways on the meaning of Paul’s justification language. The point to be noted, however, is that although Paul’s argument is understood differently, his reason for drawing on such justification language in Galatians was to insist that Gentiles were not to be circumcised and compelled to observe the Jewish food laws. Westerholm continues that the implications for the day-to-day life of believers, and for the strategy and success of the early Christian mission, were profound. Not surprisingly, his conviction is that the traditional interpretation of Paul’s justification formula captures the point of that formula better than the new perspective interpretations. Yet he concedes: “Whatever (important) differences remain on the meaning of justification language in Paul, advocates of the new perspective have rightly noted that context in which Paul’s ‘doctrine’ first found clear articulation and its critical, down-to-earth implications in the history of the early church” (p. 240).

The paper is rounded off by the “Practical Implications of Justification.” Whereas new perspective interpreters apply Paul’s teaching on justification to the eradication of barriers between Jew and Gentile in the purposes of God, old perspective advocates maintain that Paul’s intention is to deny that any human being can stand before God as righteous. Westerholm writes that neither side of the debate can claim a decisive advantage here. However, what may be said is that the whole debate has occasioned fresh reflection on the contemporary application of Paul’s doctrine.

The conclusion is well-stated. The debate between old and new perspective scholars must be conducted on the basis of careful exegesis. Whether or not a clear “winner” ever emerges, the discussion engendered by Sanders’ work has led to fairer depictions of the Judaism of Paul’s day and a renewed awareness of the practical implications of his doctrine, in his day and in ours. “These are results for which even critics of the new perspective should be grateful” (p. 242).

Finally, Wright takes up “A New Perspective on Käsemann? Apocalyptic, Covenant, and the Righteousness of God.” The piece commences with a complaint regarding the NIV’s rendering of dikaiosunē theou, “righteousness of God.” Over against that translation, Wright asserts that God’s righteousness involves two things in particular. One is that God’s own righteousness is not a status or character that is somehow conveyed or transferred to humans. The other is that this “righteousness,” though it involves a forensic element in God’s judging the world justly, is focused more specifically on God’s faithfulness to the covenant with Israel. This is what Paul sees as now fulfilled in Israel’s Messiah, the crucified and risen Jesus. In Käsemann’s words, righteousness is God’s “salvation-creating power,” making the concept apocalyptic in that God has invaded the creation to defeat and overthrow the enslaving rule of unrighteousness.

As over against the idea of retributive justice (the medieval iustitia distributiva), dikaiosunē theou is the divine faithfulness that issues in God’s acts of rescue and mercy for Israel, as evidenced in the Psalms and the Prophets. It is this backdrop that is glossed over by the NIV’s handing of Romans 1:17: “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last.” There is no chance that the biblical overtones can be heard in this rendering. Likewise with Romans 10:3. By a series of extensive quotations of Käsemann, Wright aligns himself with him, without, however, bifurcating “apocalyptic” and “covenant,” a distinction wrongly imputed to Käsemann. Wright calls attention to the balance of Käsemann’s formulation of righteousness: “God is faithful to the covenant, but, so far from meaning a smooth upward progress, it means that Israel’s (and the world’s) unfaithfulness is met again and again by the rescuing divine faithfulness” (p. 255). In Wright’s view, the citations of Käsemann show a far more nuanced and biblically rooted sensitivity than is normally credited to him, pointing to the eschatological turning of the ages whereby the ancient covenant with Israel is transformed by Paul into the always-intended covenant with all creation.

The essay concludes with a final reflection on the NIV. Wright acknowledges that one would not expect to find his own paraphrase of Romans 1:16-17; 10:3-4 (“bold steps such as these” [p. 258]) to be followed by the Committee on Bible Translation, because “if one admits that dikaiosunē theou might have to do with biblical covenant theology, who knows what other cat might be let out of the bag” (ibid.)? From my own (new) perspective, Wright is entirely justified in advising: “But it would be good to think that, in future deliberations, the Committees might be prepared to offer translations that at least leave the option open to explore the resonances that Paul’s use of the phrase may have had, not just with relatively modern dogmatics, but with the ancient Scriptures of Israel” (ibid.).

All in all, this volume is more useful than many Festschriften in its accumulation of essays that provide exegesis of biblical texts, interaction with current scholarship, and applications to the church at large. Apart from disagreements that advocates of the new perspective might have with the honoree, this is a book that should be consulted often. No doubt, we will remain in Doug Moo’s debt for some time to come. Our best wishes go out to him, his family, and his students.

Don Garlington

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A Question of Categories

Over on the Huffington Post, filmmaker Robert Orlando has posted his most recent comments related to his film A Polite Bribe: An Apostle’s Final Bid. I posted my reflections of the documentary after the 2012 showing in Chicago here.

In his post, Orlando writes about both the traditional Lutheran interpretation of Paul and the “necessary” and “overdue correction” of the new perspective on Paul, but goes on to provide his own critique of the new perspective. Unfortunately, his description of the new perspective is a little too broad, mixing together elements of the new perspective on Paul with the more recently defined perspective of Paul Within Judaism. He describes the new perspective with three broad brush strokes, writing that the new perspective proposed that:

a) Paul remained a practicing Jew, and was not a convert to a new religion,

b) that his mission was not to Jews, but to Gentiles only, and

c) that his fiercest statements against Jewish practices were not for the Jewish religion, but for fellow Jewish Apostles, who would impose their religion on Gentiles.

However, only the third point can consistently be said of the new perspective on Paul; the first two statements can more accurately be said of Paul Within Judaism, since proponents of the new perspective on Paul, though often preferring to describe Paul’s experience in terms of “calling” rather than “conversion,” typically do not argue that Paul remained a practicing Jew whose mission was to Gentiles only.

This category mistake is entirely understandable, given that until recently the Jewish and Christian scholars working from the perspective of Paul Within Judaism have tended to be grouped together under the rubric of the new perspective on Paul. One early attempt to articulate the demarcation can be seen in Pamela Eisenbaum’s book Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle, in which she used the term “a radical new perspective.” However, in the more recent anthology from Fortress Press, the scholars working from this perspective have decisively articulated their position as Paul Within Judaism.

In the remainder of Orlando’s essay, he argues that “it is reality, simply put, that Paul’s conversion was indeed a move away from Judaism.” In this, Orlando’s approach aligns rather cogently with that of James D. Tabor; its sharp distinction between Paul and Judaism is in some ways more reflective of the old perspective. And whereas I largely agree with Orlando’s and Tabor’s dramatic, compelling description of the rift between Paul and the Jerusalem apostles (a somewhat embarrassing historical fact for the church), that doesn’t mean that Paul’s positions must be understood as over against those of Judaism per se. Clearly Paul’s letters were increasingly interpreted in that way as Christianity developed and defined itself over against Judaism, but the key question is when that parting of the ways actually happened.

Mark M. Mattison

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Added a link to John M.G. Barclay’s review of Paul and the Faithfulness of God by N.T. Wright in the Scottish Journal of Theology to the Book Reviews section under The New Perspective on Paul: Around the Web and updated the link to Douglas Moo’s review as well.

Paul Within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle

Book Review

Mark D. Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm, eds., Fortress, 2015, 360 pp.

James D.G. Dunn’s 1982 Manson Memorial lecture, “The New Perspective on Paul,” was originally intended to describe a paradigm shift in Pauline studies triggered by E.P. Sanders’ 1979 book Paul and Palestinian Judaism. In his lecture, Dunn embraced Sanders’ recognition that the traditional Christian caricature of Judaism as a religion of legalism is a gross distortion (a recognition now shared broadly by Pauline scholars, with the exception of some committed to preserving older Christian interpretations). The title of Dunn’s lecture quickly became the catchphrase for a generation of biblical scholars’ attempts to reconstruct a more historically plausible Paul whose doctrine of justification by faith must have been something other than a polemic against a presumably legalistic Judaism.

More recent developments in Pauline studies have included increased consideration of his rhetoric in the light of Roman imperialism (often described more simply as “Paul and Empire”) and the increasingly better defined interpretative approach to Paul completely within the context of second-Temple Judaism. Once considered more broadly under the rubric of “the new perspective,” these scholars have struggled to delineate their unique perspective in a variety of ways. Pamela Eisenbaum early on suggested “a radical new perspective,”1 which tried to convey the idea of moving even further toward interpreting Paul in continuity with Judaism but which nevertheless was not much more descriptive than “the new perspective.” In 2010 these scholars presented at a Society of Biblical Literature session entitled “Paul and Judaism,” and shortly thereafter began to describe their perspective more helpfully as that of “Paul Within Judaism.” Most of these essays have now been published by Fortress Press under the title Paul Within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle, edited by Mark D. Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm.

And this new book is well-positioned to convey their unique approach to those who are less familiar with it.

In the introduction, Mark Nanos provides some context and an overview which is helpful overall (including some of the details above), but which could perhaps have benefited even more from a perfunctory description of the new perspective at the outset. However, the first essay, “Paul Within Judaism: The State of the Questions” by Magnus Zetterholm, quickly remedies this in a superlative historical overview of the evolution of anti-Jewishness in Christianity. What began as a political move by early Gentile Jesus-followers to legitimize their movement by claiming the heritage of Judaism while simultaneously denigrating Jews, Zetterholm points out, soon became a theological problem (pp. 37,38) which deepened throughout the history of the church (pp. 38-42) prior to the paradigm shift signaled by the work of E.P. Sanders (pp. 42-44). Zetterholm’s cursory description of the new perspective is good overall, although it repeats some popular overgeneralizations. For example, Zetterholm’s one-sentence summary of Sanders’ view, “In short: the problem with Judaism is that it is not Christianity” (p. 44) is an (unannotated) reference to probably the most famous sentence in Paul and Palestinian Judaism, “In short, this is what Paul finds wrong in Judaism: It is not Christianity” (p. 552), one of those statements that takes on a life of its own and compels its author to provide more nuanced qualification.2 Similarly, Zetterholm’s description of Dunn’s definition of “the works of the law” as “Jewish identity markers” (p. 45) may not fully preserve the nuance that Dunn has repeatedly tried to make since 1982.3 But given the brevity of his outline, Zetterholm’s lack of nuance is perhaps understandable; in its broad brush strokes, the description seems close enough.

As one final aside with respect to “the new perspective on Paul,” in his response essay in the current volume Terence L. Donaldson draws attention to statements by both Dunn and Wright suggesting that “the new perspective” moniker predated Dunn’s Manson Memorial Lecture (p. 278 n. 2); but hopefully it’s not too pedantic of me to note that the previous references in both Wright (1978) and Stendahl (1963) were simply to “a new perspective,” not “the new perspective on Paul” per se.

More to the point on the topic of terminology, the essay following Zetterholm’s fine introduction is Anders Runesson’s helpful “The Question of Terminology: The Architecture of Contemporary Discussions on Paul.” Runesson’s exercise in questioning the terms “Christian/Christianity” and “church” in Pauline scholarship (since, after all, “Christianity” as such did not yet exist in Paul’s day) is particularly effective in clearing the way for consideration of the new paradigm. His observation that even the NRSV, contrary to its usual translation of synagōgē, nevertheless renders it as “assembly” instead of “synagogue” in James 2:2 is instructive. Runesson also introduces a suggested term which he and Nanos are proposing to describe the early Jesus movement in Paul’s day: “Apostolic Judaism” (p. 67; cf. 121 n. 27).

An entirely different but no less useful exercise is taken up by Karin Hedner Zetterholm in the next essay, “The Question of Assumptions: Torah Observance in the First Century,” which considers Paul’s halakik instructions for Jesus-oriented Gentiles in 1 Corinthians 8-10 after describing by way of analogy the depth and diversity of contemporary Jewish understandings of Torah observance.

The next essay, Mark D. Nanos’ lengthy but nevertheless engaging “The Question of Conceptualization: Qualifying Paul’s Position on Circumcision in Dialogue with Josephus’s Advisors to King Izates,” thoroughly explores Josephus’ highly relevant narrative about God’s preservation of Izates who accepted circumcision as “the fruit of piety” toward God by monō pepisteukosin, “faith alone” (p. 123), though Nanos consistently uses the phrase “faith(fulness)” instead of “faith” throughout to emphasize that “faith” for Paul entailed more than simply “‘belief’ in contrast to action or deeds or works or effort” (p. 118, n. 23). “The work” or “the rite” (ton ergon) of circumcision for Izates was a matter of debate between Ananias, a Jewish merchant who advised against circumcision in the particular case of this foreign ruler (whereby he would “definitively” become “a Jew,” p. 110) and the Galilean Eleazar who urged circumcision precisely as an act of faith(fulness). Nanos’ essay effectively highlights the degree to which conflicting positions on circumcision for non-Jews has nothing whatever to do with the bifurcation of faith and deeds (cf. pp. 125ff). His essay goes on to provide helpful critiques of both the new perspective (including E.P. Sanders) and traditionalists in their essential conceptualization of Jewish texts in universalizing terms reflective of Christian theology (pp. 144-152). “In short,” Nanos writes, “it is a category error of significance to universalize Paul’s position against the circumcision of Christ-following non-Jews without distinguishing that special topic from the issue of the circumcision of sons born to Jews, Christ-followers or not, and then to compare that conclusion to other Jewish groups’ positions on the circumcision of Jews” (p. 151).

Caroline Johnson Hodge’s essay, “The Question of Identity: Gentiles as Gentiles – but also Not – in Pauline Communities,” also eschews the term “Christian” as anachronistic in Paul’s letters, but goes on to explore the perplexing ambiguity of the “kind of liminal space” that gentiles-in-Christ occupy in Paul’s thinking (p. 157). Exploring relevant texts in Josephus, Ezra, and Jubilees, she shows how Paul argues for the inclusion of these gentiles as “the seed of Abraham” without becoming Jews.

Paula Fredriksen’s essay, “The Question of Worship: Gods, Pagans, and the Redemption of Israel” presents a delightfully colorful depiction of just how deeply ingrained paganism was in Paul’s world: “It was impossible to live in a Greco-Roman city without living with its gods,” she writes; “This god-congested environment, civic and cosmic, was the matrix of Paul’s mission” (p. 177). Living in Diaspora cities required Jews to “negotiate between their own god’s demand for exclusive worship and the regular requirements of ancient Mediterranean friendship, loyalty, patronage/clientage, and citizenship wherever they lived” (p. 181). By discouraging pagans in the Jesus movement from becoming Jews, Paul radically challenged the stable social arrangements whereby only Jews were exempt from the obligations to honor the local gods (pp. 185-189). As in her recent JBL article,4 she argues that for Paul, the phrase dikaiōthentes ek pisteōs, commonly translated “justified by faith,” should more accurately be understood as the spiritual empowering of pagans to observe nine of the ten commandments; she points out that dikaoisynē, “justice,” was a way of denoting the Second Table of the Law (eusebeai, “piety,” denoting the First Table). Paul’s apocalyptic perspective, as seen in Romans 9-11, is what provides the context (pp. 194-201).

In his essay “The Question of Politics: Paul as a Diaspora Jew under Roman Rule,” Neil Elliott articulates with his usual clarity Paul’s imperial context without essentializing categories, critiquing in turn the work of Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch, Jörg Frey, and John M. G. Barclay. One critique that stands out in this essay is the following observation about the attraction of the new perspective on Paul:

This approach nevertheless has gained in its appeal to many contemporary interpreters, in part, I suspect, because it has the apparent advantage of absolving Paul of having misunderstood Judaism. To the contrary, on this view, Paul appears as something of a champion of modern multiculturalism and as an opponent of ethnic chauvinism or ethnocentrism (which was exemplified by his Jewish opponents). It is not surprising that this approach has proven popular in the United States and the United Kingdom, that is, in ethnically diverse, democratic societies where more liberal interpreters see a happy integration of different peoples as a paramount value.

This interpretation (and cultural appropriation) of Paul comes at a cost, however, as a number of critics have pointed out. It routinely portrays as characteristically Jewish a collective insistence on ethnic distinctiveness, sometimes in negative terms formerly used to describe the boastful, arrogant, self-justifying Jewish individual. As Thomas Deidun put it years ago, New Perspective efforts to rehabilitate Paul as an opponent of Jewish ethnocentrism allow “practically all the old Lutheran demons” of Jewish caricature “to return unabashed to the Judaism which Sanders had by all accounts meticulously swept and put in order.” Similar criticisms have been raised by Mark D. Nanos and Daniel Boyarin, among others (pp. 206,207).

The same point is just as effectively made in the next essay, Kathy Ehrensperger’s “The Question(s) of Gender: Relocating Paul in Relation to Judaism,” an outstanding critique from a feminist perspective. She writes about:

New Perspective on Paul approaches, which consider an ethnocentric version of Judaism to be the problem that Paul overcomes in Christ …. an evaluation of a “good” or “bad” Judaism is the basis for acknowledging some positive value to the Jewishness of Paul. The Christ-event is that which liberates either gentiles or women from the constraints of the “bad,” narrow Judaism” (pp. 247,248).

Ehrensperger’s essay focuses on the significance of Paul’s instructions with respect to women in worship in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 14:33-36, locating a plausible context within Paul’s Jewish tradition. She writes that “Paul’s explicit references to women neither indicate his reactionary attitude nor his liberating stance; they cannot be attributed to some narrow or conservative Judaism or a liberating ‘in Christ’ stance respectively. They are merely practical guidance and understanding from within Jewish tradition and practice now applied to non-Jews who join with Israel to worship God as theirs also” (p. 259). Most importantly, she goes on to also address the problem of universalization (pp. 259-261) which problematizes the value of “differentiation within diversity” (p. 262), a point that she elaborates helpfully with insights from gender studies (pp. 267ff).

It’s worth noting that Nanos similarly problematizes the new persective’s purported contrast between Paul’s “universalizing” gospel and Judaism’s “particularizing” problem by what could be considered the self-evident differentiation that Paul makes between the ekklēsiai to which he is writing and other groups. He writes that:

What is attributed to Judaism as “wrong” in that approach is predicated on a logical necessity that is not only historically questionable but also based upon a premise that represents a double standard. That is, it makes no sense of Paul’s objection except if Paul is objecting to Jewishness per se. Why is that so? Because to be consistent, New Perspective proponents would have to admit that Paul found something inherently wrong with the essence of group identity itself. But how could that be maintained logically, since Paul was involved in creating a group that claimed to be set apart from all other groups? How could it be claimed that Paul was against ethnocentrism or badges of identity if Paul’s gospel is proclaimed to the nations in order to create groups gathering together (ekklēsiai) that consist of people from Israel and people from the other nations (ethnē) who are set apart by and to God by way of faith in/of Christ? But if Paul is only against group identity when Jewish measures of identity are valued positively, not to claims of group identity per se or when “Christian” measures of identity are valued positively, that only reinforces the traditional negative caricatures, mutatis mutandis, to which the New Perspective interpreters otherwise claim to object, and that they seem to believe that their approaches have overcome (pp. 7,8).

In light of the many overlapping points made by these various contributors, it is highly appropriate that an invitation was extended to Terence L. Donaldson to provide a thoughtful response in “Paul within Judaism: A Critical Evaluation from a ‘New Perspective’ Perspective.” In his response, Donaldson accurately pinpoints a common theme throughout the volume’s essays: the eschatological inclusion of the ethnē, an emphasis on Jewish restoration eschatology also indicated by Nanos’ proposed terminology of a “chronometrical” claim “to indicate that Paul’s position on what is appropriate within Judaism for Christ-followers is specifically related to his conviction that the awaited age has dawned already within the present age, this requiring some adjustments to prevailing halakah” (p. 109). Donaldson questions the chronology for Paul’s thinking vis-à-vis Romans 11, which Nanos nuances in his introductory essay (pp. 25,26).

For my part, my main constructive criticism involves what I would consider the volume’s biggest “blind spot,” specifically, the contributors’ lack of attention to what may arguably be one of the most fundamental obstacles for many of us who are seeking to provide them a fair hearing: A sustained argument that though Paul’s letters were addressed to mixed communities that included Jews, nevertheless his primary audience was comprised of non-Jewish followers of Jesus, underscoring the argument that Paul’s discouragement of circumcision was specifically directed to Gentiles, not to Torah-observant Jews who would normally circumcise their male children. The assumption is liberally alluded to throughout the volume (cf. pp. 17, 23, 48, 115 n. 17, 134, 136, 145, 148-149, 153, 234, 250 n.15), but rarely explored, although pp. 156 and 185 n. 24 do cite some pertinent texts to support the position. Nevertheless, additional attention to articulating this assumption, I think, would have considerably improved the overall presentation of “Paul Within Judaism.”

Mark M. Mattison


1Cf. Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle (HarperCollins), 2009,pp. 250,251.

2Cf. E.P. Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People (Fortress Press), 1983, pp. 154ff; 165ff n. 38.

3Cf., among many other instances, James D.G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul: Revised Edition (Eerdmans), 2008, pp. 23ff.

4Paula Fredriksen, “Paul’s Letter to the Romans, the Ten Commandments, and Pagan ‘Justification by Faith,’” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 133, No. 4 (Winter 2014), pp. 801-888.

Latest Updates

Added the Festschrift to Douglas J. Moo edited by Matthew Harmon and Jay E. Smith, Studies in the Pauline Epistles: Essays in Honor of Douglas J. Moo, to the Bibliography under The New Perspective on Paul and Robert Orlando’s book Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe, the companion book to his film, to the Bibliography under Paul and Empire.

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