Reading Paul with the Reformers– Part Fifteen


Ben. Your critique of Wright and Campbell especially, in regard to their misunderstanding of the Reformers seems right on target. In some respects, they have mistaken later Calvinism and Lutheranism for Calvin and Luther. What would you see as their gravest errors either in their evaluation of the Reformers, or their evaluation of Paul?

Stephen. I think that because the NPP was reacting against the so-called “Lutheran” interpretation of Paul it is the figure of Luther that looms larger in relation to this question that that of Calvin. What we mean when we talk of the “Lutheran” interpretation of Paul is usually mid-twentieth century German scholarship, represented pre-eminently by the figure of Bultmann, that interprets Paul primarily in existential categories that focus on the individual. Although I think Bultmann has a contribution to make and remains a truly fascinating Pauline interpreter, I also have no doubt that NPP scholars were right to move on from that way of reading Paul. However, having done that, why were they content to accept as fundamentally accurate the interpretation of Luther offered from within the same German intellectual tradition that they were rejecting in relation to the interpretation of Paul? I do not understand that move, and it leads to a caricature of Luther and a misunderstanding of his place in the history of Pauline interpretation.

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