After the New Perspective – Part 3

I’ve already said that the NPP was a good correction to ahistorical and asocial readings of Paul. It gives a more rounded and thicker description of Paul as a Jewish Christian theologian. That said, there’s several areas where the NPP moved in the wrong direction.

1. Whilst Judaism might broadly be characterized as “covenantal nomism,” the emphasis could fall on “covenant” or “nomism” depending on who was telling the story. What is more, an increased nomistic stance appears in contexts where: (a) there is a heightened emphasis on entering the age to come and the basis for entering that age is somewhere tied to a mixture of election, ethnicity, and effort in law observance; (b) nomism is heightened in sectarian contexts in relation to whose halakah properly obeys the Torah; and (c) nomism is acute in contexts where the issue is the rite of passage for outsiders to become insiders. I submit that all three issues (eschatology, sectarianism, and outsider entrance) are found in Galatians.

2. While Paul renounced his former boasting and righteousness in his inherited national privileges as a Jew, he also renounces his claim to righteousness on the basis of how he lived out and performed his national identity as a Pharisaic Jew.

3. Paul’s problem with Judaism was not merely exclusivism for two reasons. (a) Most Jews were inclusive in the sense that they accepted Gentiles as either guests with partial commitment to the Jewish way of life. They also accepted, and at spasmodic occasions even encouraged, proselytes whose conversion were celebrated. It was the manner of inclusion of Gentiles in the church without circumcision and the willingness of Jewish Christians like himself to fraternize with Gentiles  who were unconverted that was Paul’s issue with his Jewish and Jewish Christian compatriots. (b) In many senses Paul was just as exclusive as his Jewish compatriots by maintaining Israel’s biggest boundary marker of monotheism, a disdain for idolatry, moral impurity, and avoiding intermarriage with unbelievers.

4. Though “works of law” can include the visible markers that distinguished Jews from Gentiles, works of law simply means “works which the law requries”, and it probably means something like “the Jewish way of life laid down in the Torah as understood according to our way of doing it”. Meaning that “works of law” is sectarian for “the way we think the law should be done”.

5. Paul deals with social issues, his arguments are rooted in the narrative of scripture, but we cannot erase the anthropological question: what is the problem with humanity that the Mosaic covenant and the Torah cannot fix.

Now I would really, really like to go on a NPP hiatus.

  • http://profiles.google.com/bluesyboy1 Peter Málik

    speaking of galatians… what do you think of Fee´s commentary?

    • Michael Bird

      Not bad. I’ve only read him on Gal 2, but pretty good, probably the best in that series.

      • Christoph

        I used it for working on Gal 3 and my impression was that it lacked structure and was more associative, although I found some good thoughts in it.
        Well, maybe it’s just the series: of course it can’t be as detailed and as much engaging with other scholars as his NICNT-Commentary on 1 Cor. But anyway, I was a little bit disappointed.

  • http://profiles.google.com/bluesyboy1 Peter Málik

    speaking of galatians… what do you think of Fee´s commentary?

    • Michael Bird

      Not bad. I’ve only read him on Gal 2, but pretty good, probably the best in that series.

      • Christoph

        I used it for working on Gal 3 and my impression was that it lacked structure and was more associative, although I found some good thoughts in it.
        Well, maybe it’s just the series: of course it can’t be as detailed and as much engaging with other scholars as his NICNT-Commentary on 1 Cor. But anyway, I was a little bit disappointed.

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