Paul’s New Perspective: Charting a Soteriological Journey

Book Review

Garwood P. Anderson (IVP Academic), 2016, 457 pp.

What began as a promising breakthrough in Pauline studies just three decades ago — “the new perspective on Paul,” as James D.G. Dunn famously dubbed it in 1982 — seems in recent years to have became mired in increasingly polemical disputes among evangelical Christian scholars. The new perspective, particularly on the historical context of Paul’s doctrine of justification, drew strong criticism from some Reformed quarters, leading most notably to the rhetorical impasse of the debate between John Piper1 and N.T. Wright.2 Garwood P. Anderson introduces his ambitious new book, Paul’s New Perspective: Charting a Soteriological Journey, with a description of the Wright-Piper debate, which left many evangelicals in a puzzling quagmire and looking almost in vain for a way forward (pp. 1-3). In the chapters that follow, Anderson details numerous attempts over the years to work “beyond the new perspective on Paul,” with varying degrees of success but no clear consensus.

Anderson’s own attempt is an impressive project, an extended argument intended to build on the strengths of both “the new perspective on Paul” (abbreviated as “NPP”) and “the traditional perspective on Paul” (abbreviated as “TPP”) while carefully qualifying each in turn. In what may become the most memorable statement of his book, Anderson cleverly writes that “In short, I argue that the new perspective on Paul is a better account of Paul’s older perspective” (p. 12). Or, as he sums it up later:

The proposal of this book is that contradictory schools of Pauline interpretation are both right, just not at the same time. … The thesis of this study is that the new perspective on Paul is Paul’s oldest perspective and that the “old” perspective describes what would become (more or less) Paul’s settled “new” perspective (p. 379).

This is clearly an innovative way to have one’s cake and eat it too — to argue for a restrained “new perspective” of Paul’s earlier letters but a more “traditional perspective” in Paul’s later letters, charting a specific trajectory of development in Paul’s teaching.3 In a pastorally-sensitive tone which should hearten evangelical scholars, Anderson doesn’t argue that this proposed trajectory of Paul’s theological arguments constitute internal contradictions or reversals, but rather a nuancing of thought, with Paul’s earlier thinking and his later thinking not being mutually exclusive.

Since the proposal for such a trajectory requires some distance between Paul’s letters, Anderson necessarily spends a substantial portion of his work on chronology and dating. Two full chapters (four and five, pp. 153-225) methodically work through an itinerary beginning with the South Galatian hypothesis (with Galatians written first, ca. 48 – 49 CE) and arguing for a Pauline mission extending past Paul’s Roman imprisonment to include Colossians and Ephesians (alongside Philemon and Philippians) ca. 60 – 62 CE and even the Pastoral Epistles ca. 62 – 65 CE. Though (by his own admission4) Anderson’s arguments are unlikely to persuade more than a few to change their opinions about whether Paul personally authored all the letters attributed to him in the New Testament canon, by positing thirteen letters over a fifteen-year span instead of seven letters over a five-year span, Anderson creates a plausible framework for a trajectory of development in Paul’s own thought:

Thus, I am working with a thirteen-letter corpus and a Pauline soteriology that stretches from AD 49 to the mid-60s — indeed, as I will argue, with a soteriology that itself stretches. By way of comparison, some studies of the development of Pauline soteriology are limited to seven letters while having primary interest in but two (Galatians and Romans), and these may be separated by a span of mere months (p. 166).

Anderson admits to having considered sidestepping the question of authenticity by focusing on the theological trajectory of the Pauline corpus irrespective of Paul’s personal authorship, but notes that his proposal for a development in Paul’s own thought is better accounted for with the chronology proposed (cf. p. 222).

Having articulated a timeline for Paul’s writing, Anderson lays out a sustained argument for Paul’s evolution on not only “works” and “grace” (chapter six) but “justification,” “salvation,” and “reconciliation” as well (chapter seven), followed by supporting arguments for the specific contexts of these developments (chapter eight) and finally additional reflections (chapter nine) on the place of justification and participation in Christ in Paul’s theology.

To be more specific about the five themes enumerated above (works, grace, justification, salvation, reconciliation): in chapter six Anderson argues that “the NPP” was right to understand “the works of the law” as impediments to Gentile inclusion in covenant membership, whereas “the TPP” was equally right to understand “works” (without modification) as meritorious efforts to obtain divine favor:

Against the majority views of the NPP and the TPP, I have argued that erga nomou and “works” are not interchangeable, against the NPP that “works” is not shorthand for its definition of “works of the law” and against the majority of TPP interpreters that erga nomou is not simply a subset of, or synecdoche for, “works.” More importantly, neither is Paul’s polemic against erga nomou identical to that opposing “works” (pp. 280, 281; cf. p. 228).

Anderson situates the polemics against more narrowly defined “works of the law” in Galatians but situates the polemics against human “works” more broadly in the Deutero-Paulines and the Pastoral Epistles, with Romans being the “middle ground” in which both arguments are present. Anderson then argues for a corresponding pattern with respect to the meaning of “grace” in Paul’s writings, as the counterpoint to human performance and boasting in Paul’s later writings but not his earlier writings (cf. p. 281).

In chapter seven, Anderson makes a clear distinction between “justification” and “salvation,” arguing that whereas the former dominates Paul’s earlier writings as a forensic concept, the latter dominates Paul’s later writings as a more broad concept. He goes on to consider the theme of reconciliation in Paul, which is absent in Galatians, the Thessalonian correspondence, and 1 Corinthians, but which becomes a key argument in 2 Corinthians and Romans and carries over into Colossians and Ephesians.

Anderson’s attention to detail and nuance is impressive. In addition to well-known disputes about the new perspective, he recounts even lesser-known, smaller theological “skirmishes” (like the “Auburn Avenue” controversy, p. 95), and is careful not to oversimplify or gloss over points often lost in popular recountings of the new perspective, such as Dunn’s repeated qualification of his original 1982 essay (cf. pp. 45 – 46, 48, 50 n. 68, 58 n. 2, 96, 100 n. 24, 109 n. 48). Anderson’s apparent target audience, evangelical Christians stuck between Wright and Piper — between “the NPP” and “the TPP” — will undoubtedly find this book to be an invaluable contribution to the debate.

However, scholars working outside of that confessional context may be disappointed that perspectives other than “the NPP” and “the TPP” are hardly even acknowledged. For example, the more recent perspective described as “Paul Within Judaism” (could we label it the “PWJ” perspective?) seems obscured in Anderson’s taxonomy, its proponents apparently lumped in with scholars representing “the NPP” (cf. p. 93, n. 3) and without much representation. Perhaps a broader scope would have pushed this already ambitious undertaking beyond its manageable limits and turned it into a different sort of project, but even a tip of the hat to other approaches would have been very welcome.

Finally, as one who remains unpersuaded by the argument for Pauline authorship of the Deutero-Paulines and the Pastoral Epistles, this reviewer nevertheless found Anderson’s arguments to be thoughtful, nuanced, and even unpretentious. More significantly, the sweep of Anderson’s exercise across the entire canonical Pauline corpus highlights the pressing need for both “the NPP” and other perspectives on Paul, particularly “PWJ,” to devote more attention to the disputed Pauline epistles (cf. p. 223). If for no other reason, this book will provide value even to scholars beyond its evangelical target audience.

Mark M. Mattison



1John Piper, The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright (Crossway), 2007.

2N.T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (IVP Academic), 2009.

3A similar trajectory has also been proposed by Wan Chee Keong in his article, “Justification and the Righteousness of God in the Pauline Corpus.”

4Cf. pp. 182,183: “It is highly doubtful that in brief compass I will succeed in persuading those convinced of the pseudonymity of some or all of the disputed letters, though I would be content even to sow some seeds of doubt. … In any case, even readers skeptical of the authenticity of some or all of the disputed letters can benefit from the thought experiment of reading the disputed letters ‘as if’ from Paul.” The point is well taken.

Latest Updates

Updated more links and removed some dead links from The New Perspective on Paul: Around the Web: Challenging the New Perspective.

Latest Updates

Updated some links and removed some dead links from The New Perspective on Paul: Around the Web: Challenging the New Perspective.

Latest Updates

Updated some links and removed some dead links from The New Perspective on Paul: Around the Web: Challenging the New Perspective.

Latest Updates

Updated links and removed dead links from The New Perspective on Paul: Around the Web: From the New Perspective.

Latest Updates

Updated links and removed dead links from The New Perspective on Paul: Around the Web: On the New Perspective.

Latest Update

Added a link to Paul Fredrikson’s review of Paul and the Faithfulness of God by N.T. Wright to the Book Reviews section under The New Perspective on Paul: Around the Web.

Latest Update

Added a link to my review of Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle, ed. by Mark D. Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm, to the Book Reviews section under Paul Within Judaism.

Latest Update

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

« Older Entries  |  Newer Entries »

Don’t miss out

Get the latest The Paul Page news, content, and more—sign up today!