Sunday, August 12, 2007

New Perspective on New Perspective on Paul

Simon Gathercole is senior lecturer in New Testament at the University of Aberdeen. He was recently appointed a lecturer at the University of Cambridge, starting in October. His new article clarify and adds a new perspective on 'new perspective' on the apostle Paul.

What Did Paul Really Mean?
'New perspective' scholars argue that we need, well, a new perspective on justification by faith.
Simon Gathercole posted 8/10/2007 08:48AM

For those who are confused about what 'new perspectives', the editor of Christianity Today online added a helpful comment:

Leading new perspective theologian N. T. Wright has repeatedly responded to his critics. Talking in 2004 with James D. G. Dunn, who named the new perspective, Wright faulted his critics for producing websites that "are extremely rude about the two people sitting on this platform tonight for having sold Paul down the river and given up the genuine Reformed doctrine of justification by faith."

Gathercole gives a short summary of the 'new perspective'

The difference between old and new perspectives can be summed up briefly. In the old perspective, works of the law are human acts of righteousness performed in order to gain credit before God. In the new perspective, works of the law are elements of Jewish law that accentuate Jewish privilege and mark out Israel from other nations.

Two vital ingredients go into the new perspective. The first is actually more a new perspective on Judaism than on Paul. It reacts against the traditional idea that Jews in Paul's day believed they could accumulate merit before God by their deeds. In place of seeing Paul's contemporaries as legalistic, the new perspective says the concern in early Judaism was to maintain the identity of the Jewish nation, especially through observing the Sabbath, circumcising their newborns, and eating kosher. These boundary markers or badges of identity for the Jewish nation distinguished them as belonging to God's covenant people.

Second, this understanding of first-century Judaism is then applied to Paul. According to the new perspective, Paul is only focusing on these aspects of Jewish life (Sabbath, circumcision, food laws) when he mentions "works of the law." His problem isn't legalistic self-righteousness in general. Rather, for Jews these works of the law highlighted God's election of the Jewish nation, excluding Gentiles. Called by God to reach the Gentiles, Paul recognizes that Jews wrongly restricted God's covenant to themselves....

Simon says

On the other side, there are a few points at which the new perspective is, in my judgment, at fault.

1. We need to go back to E. P. Sanders and his insistence that Judaism in Paul's day did not think in terms of salvation as something earned or gained by obedience to the law...

2. Does Paul think primarily of circumcision, Sabbath observance, and food laws when he uses the phrase "works of the law"?

3. Criticism of "individualistic" readings of Paul can throw the baby out with the bathwater. ..

4. A further tendency of the new perspective is to confuse the content of justification with its applications...

5. Seeing justification as primarily addressing how Gentiles can be incorporated into the people of God can lead to a downplaying of sin...

6. Since the emphasis in some discussions of justification is on inclusion, tolerance, and ecumenism, there can be a tendency to downplay the importance of doctrinal clarity...

read more here

Related Elsewhere:

"Further Reading on the New Perspective" accompanies this article.

A recent Christianity Today editorial outlined why justification by faith alone is still Protestants' defining doctrine.

The Paul Page has original articles and interviews about the new perspective on Paul, as well as links to journal articles, books, and other materials around the web.

Scot McKnight has also blogged about the new perspective in Jesus Creed.

The Wall Street Journal published John Wilson's op-ed on N.T. Wright and the new perspective.
Many of N. T. Wright's papers and sermons on Paul are available on an unofficial site.

Simon Gathercole's "After the New Perspective: Works, Justification and Boasting in Early Judaism and Romans 1-5" is available online.

more on Paul here

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Anonymous blogpastor said...

Thanks for this enlightening post.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi blogpastor,

enlightening gives us better perspective

3:24 AM  
Anonymous ej said...

Seems like you and Scot McKnight are on a roll here w.r.t. the New Perspective

10:43 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi ej,

It sounds nice to have me and Scot McKnight in the same sentence.

12:06 AM  

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