New Perspective 1

In the most recent edition of Christianity Today, Simon Gathercole (now) of Cambridge University, has a lengthy and fine study of the good and bad of the New Perspective on Paul. [I don’t know if the piece is online yet; I’ve not found it.] What is the New Perspective on Paul? The most significant development, outside of historical Jesus studies, in biblical studies in the last 50 years.Today I want to begin at the beginning and see if I can explain it. I will continue this throughout the week as we take a readable look at the New Perspective and hope to stand next to Simon’s piece in CT.

The opposition to certain elements of the NPP has become so fierce for some that denominations have gathered to see if pastors who represent that denomination adhere to the NPP or not — if they do, they’re out.
The NPP begins, oddly enough, with a public lecture on 4 November of 1982 by my then-mentor in PhD studies, Jimmy Dunn. I didn’t hear it; but I heard plenty about it. It was published the next year and it changed NT studies by giving a handle to what was going on. But it took awhile for what was going on to take on the name “The New Perspective.”
What was that Jimmy said? In 1977, five years earlier, E.P. Sanders published Paul and Palestinian Judaism and Jimmy basically captured the shift in perspective that Sanders unleashed in his expression “new perspective on Paul.” At the time, nearly everyone was captivated by Sanders but there were voices like this: “Let’s not get too excited” or “He’s basically right but that’s not the whole story” or “This is so innovative we have to think about this some more” or “There are some problems here but I’ll have to do some careful work in Judaism to show it.” Some said, with Dunn, “The tide has changed. We have entered a new world.”
Here’s what Sanders in essence said:
1. Judaism was not a religion of works where if you built up enough credits you’d find final approval with God. Paul can’t be understood saying that about Judaism.
2. Turning Judaism into a “works” religion flies in the face of all of Jewish scholarship, emerges from Luther’s problem with the Catholic Church and gets imported onto Paul, and is out of touch with the vast bulk of ancient Jewish sources. (Sanders allowed some, but not much, works-type religion in Judaism.)
3. Judaism’s understanding of salvation (which is a Christian way of capturing the reality) is rooted in two themes: God’s election and the covenant. God chose Israel and this gave Israel salvation; Jews were not worried about final redemption and were not striving to gain eternal life by accumulating merit. The Covenant is the foundation of all of Jewish religion. To suggest that Jews were accumulating merit because this is human nature is not true according to Sanders.
4. The Law, or observing and obeying the Law, is how Jews “maintained” their relationship to the covenant and God and not the way of entering into that covenant. To say Jews followed the Law to get salvation misses why Jews loved the Torah.
5. Righteousness describes behavior that conforms to that Torah.
Thus, Sanders put all this together in what he called “covenantal nomism” — a covenant that creates a community called to obey the Law (nomos); any offense of the Torah requires appropriate sacrifice and atonement. Those who live this way — within the bounds of the Torah — are righteous.
This basic set of factors is at the heart of the New Perspective on Paul. Sanders himself proposed that Paul believed the Church had entered into the eschatological day — he called Paul’s theology participationist eschatology. But Sanders’ proposal on Paul wasn’t his major contribution.
It was Jimmy Dunn who took Sanders’ view of Judaism and gave us a new Paul and a new understanding of Paul’s relationship to Judaism and therefore a new perspective on Paul. Part 2 tomorrow.
Note to CT: I see resemblance in the caricatures of Beza, Luther, Calvin, Wright and Sanders, but that picture of Jimmy Dunn looks more like Bruce Chilton than Jimmy. Anyone else observe this?

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  • Hi Scot,
    Thanks for this series. I taught Romans and Colossians this past year from a NP – interpretation in our church congregation. Pastorally, I found it exciting and much more engaging than rehashing Luther’s situation.
    Can you share any pastoral/teaching implications from teaching Judaism/Paul/NT as informed by the NP? Perhaps a story of reflection? Thanks.
    PS – I was rather shocked by how vehement some of my community members who come from a Reformed background were. They thought I was “ignoring parts of Romans” because they could only frame up Romans as a treatise against ‘earning salvation’.

  • Scot,
    A very good post. This is such a very clear explanation of Sanders and the “NPP.” (I wish I had this post years ago as I struggled to understand these concepts when his book was first published.)
    I look forward to this series. So often we hear someone refer to the NPP (whether positively or negatively) but rarely is it laid out so clearly.

  • Thanks for this post. Particularly for UK readers (I don’t know if they’re easily available in the US) there’s a very helpful and short non-academic intro to NPP by Michael Thompson. I’d also note that the first article drawing on (the then nameless) NPP for a wider Christian audience (and still a very good one) is Tom Wright’s on Justification in a little 1980 book called “The Great Aquittal.” I recommend it simply because it puts the case for a re-reading of Paul without all the baggage that subsequent debate has loaded onto the discussion, and simply as an exegetical case.

  • Matthew D. Montonini

    Scot, Good post! I have posted similarly on my blog.

  • Scot, Yes that cartoon of Dunn is horrendous!

  • Thanks Scot. Glad your posting on this vital subject. While Ed Sanders opened the door with his insighful studies, Tom Wright and Jimmy Dunn have brought helpful correctives and contributions that merit serious consideration.

  • Diane

    What this post says accords with what I am reading in N.T. Wright at the moment and makes sense to me. Scot, I have a question or two: Are there any books out on why Paul so often gets blamed for Christianity’s perceived problems? I’m thinking of Hitler blaming Paul for spreading the “lie” that Jesus wasn’t an Aryan, those who blame Paul for turning Christianity (in their opinion) into a misogynist faith, slavery-supporting faith, etc. And did this use of Paul as whipping boy predate the Enlightenment?

  • Diane,
    On blaming Paul … I don’t know of a book that surveys the history of blaming Paul. But, at the turn of the 20th Century, following so it seems to me in the wake of the romanticizing of Jesus, there were lots who began to study and write about the relationship of Jesus and Paul.
    So, some of this issue is related to a way of describing the message and ministry of Jesus. If it is not done accurately, you can get a major contrast with Paul easily. (And I’m all for seeing shifts with Paul and diversity.)
    I don’t think this was pre-Enlightenment. It flowed, so far as I know, out of the rise of Jesus studies that sought to profile the “historical” Jesus.

  • I can’t read the CT article right now. I think I buy the NPP up to a large extent, though my current reading of Romans 4:4-5 about works and grace as well as other passages I think, make me think that Paul was not comletely unconcerned about the idea of meritorious works within Judaism.

  • Tim Gombis

    Diane (#7), you might want to check out Neil Elliott’s ‘Liberating Paul’ on this theme (in an updated edition by Fortress). He surveys this a bit, though he places the blame in unfortunate places, such as Paul’s later canonical interpreters (i.e., the author of Ephesians, the redactor of 1 Corinthians), along with later Christian interpreters.
    Also, Scot, was that you behind the Cubs dugout at Wrigley last night?

  • Tim,
    Nope. And I’m glad I wasn’t there last night — too humid and the Cubs’ offense stunk it up last night.

  • Jeremy Floyd

    thanks for the post. working through these issues right now, was excited to see the CT article and your post as well. keep them coming.

  • ron

    On NPP I think these also have some exciting things to say: Krister Stendahl (Final Account: Paul’s Letter to the Romans), and Mark Nanos (The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letter).

  • Here is a link to another Gathercole article on a related topic.

  • Wow! I feel out of the loop!
    This post reveals some glaring barren areas in my narrow field of study. This is pretty much brand-new to me. I’m eagerly looking forward to the rest of the posts this week.
    Thanks, brother.

  • Ein blinder Fleck der evangelischen Theologie? » Der Sämann » Blog Archiv » Ein blinder Fleck der evangelischen Theologie?

    […] Ein Grund zur Freude: Scot McKnight hat heute eine Reihe über die “New Perspective on Paul” begonnen – eine Bewegung, die von E.P. Sanders und J.D.G. Dunn losgetreten wurde. Interessanterweise habe ich mir erst vor drei Tagen Dunn’s Buch The Theology of Paul the Apostle bestellt. Scheint also zeitlich zu passen… […]

  • Scott Watson

    Here’s a link to the 1978 article of N.T. Wright “The Paul of History and the Apostle of Faith” as he expounds on the issues involved in fomenting the NPP from a theological and Pauline studies perspective.

  • Scott M

    I think part of the problem is that most Christians today don’t actually have any Jewish friends or relatives. In Luther’s day it was even worse. Throughout my life, my family has had Jewish friends, neighbors, and even family (through marriage). As such, coming into Christianity I recognized that much of what evangelical Christians say about Judaism was nothing but a caricature and missing the most fundamental point. You don’t keep Torah to become God’s people. You keep Torah because you are God’s people. And unless you grasp that seemingly simple concept, you’ll never even begin to understand Judaism. I’m not claiming any sort of scholarly understanding of present-day Judaism. But I will say that the things most evangelical Christians say about Judaism don’t line up with the reality I had encountered.
    I love Wright, in part, because of his insights as a historian into specifically second temple Judaism. Prior to Christianity, I hadn’t had any real interest in ancient Jewish history, though I’ve always had a love for ancient history. And Christianity, unlike most religions, makes a host of specific historical claims that must be understood within a specific historical setting.
    As I’ve delved into Christianity, I also can’t find much support within it for the whole “works righteousness” debate. Yes, some specific abuses developed within the medieval Roman Catholic Church that culminated in Luther’s protest. And, yes, I would personally agree that issues that led to the great schism of 1054 continue to persist in the RCC. However, much of what Luther reacted against has actually been reformed within the Roman Catholic Church since that time. More importantly, though, I can find nothing in the larger history and teaching of the Church to justify this evangelical obsession with “works righteousness”. The Church has never taught as official doctrine that you could somehow “earn” salvation. But scripture is abundantly clear that in order to follow Jesus of Nazareth, you actually have to do stuff. I heard a great quote from Willard once. “Grace is opposed to earning. Grace is not opposed to effort.” (Actually, I probably mangled it since I was working from memory.)

  • Scot McKnight on the New Perspective « faithmaps blog

    […] Aug 6th, 2007 by snshields Today, Scot begins blogging on the New Perspective on Paul. This should be helpful. […]

  • Josh

    Hi Scot,
    Somewhere along the line I too studied the New Perspective and incorporated it into my understanding of Paul. I didn’t know it had a name. I think it makes more exegetical sense of many of the arguements found in the epistles and overall theology. I’m taking a Pauline class this semester at a SBC university so I’m glad that you gave a good solid summary of it.
    One question:
    Why is there such an uproar about it? I mean, kicking pastors out for utilizing exegetical reasoning to come to conclusions. Isn’t that what they are supposed to be teaching us to do?
    Are there any valid refutations or conversations with the NPP?

  • Ron

    Jacob (#1), I’ve encountered a similar reaction by people…but I didn’t even get into it to the extent you did. I simply made the comment that, when reading books like Romans, we need to read it in light of a first-century/second-temple Judaism and not Luther and the Protestant Reformation.
    I might as well have told the congregation that blue was actually orange.

  • Katherine

    We studied the NPP in our New Testament Criticism class, which I enjoyed and benefited from thoroughly. Like all academic ventures, it needs tweaking, but I think it moderates and challenges all these horrendous false dichotomies like law v. grace. It also takes Judaism and its developments within the 2nd Temple period much more seriously.
    Covenantal nomism, though, can devolve into legalism. In my Southern Baptist church growing up, everyone could talk about salvation by grace through faith till they were blue in the face, but the moment someone lit up a cigarette (or committed some other grave sin) their salvation was questioned. Not merely their obedience, or maintenance of their faith, but their actual salvation. Or they would ask the youth minister to resign and leave the church merely because he and his wife attended marriage counseling. I know Southern Baptists are quite different from any kind of Judaism, but I do see a point of resemblance in how legalism can develop in a faith that sees entrance into the community as a gift of election but has all these required means of status maintenance.

  • Bill Crawford

    Scot, If it won’t take you too far afield, perhaps as you explain the NPP you could comment on how holding to the NPP affects one’s understanding of assurance. I share the view expressed by Katherine in the last sentence of her post (#22).

  • Bill,
    I’ve not been asked that, and you may not know “who” you are asking — a non-Calvinist who thinks assurance is subjective but who thinks the work of God in Christ through the Spirit is entirely effective.
    I would think that NPP folks would have a variety of views on assurance. Since someone like Tom Wright or Jimmy Dunn believe that God’s work in Christ is fully effective and that we are “in Christ,” I would think they would believe in some kind of assurance.
    If you are asking about eternal security, which for some is the ground for assurance, then I’m not sure how NPP folks would respond.
    Is this helpful?

  • I read the article by Simon Gathercole in Christianity Today. It is good Christianity Today readers are getting exposed to this. But I was disappointed that they asked Gathercole to give the overview. Gathercole’s book “Where is Boasting” firmly opposes the New Perspective. In the first four pages, he helpfully summarizes the issues but in the last two pages he feels compelled to spell out the traditional Reformed view of justification.
    He certainly has expertise on the issue but on a controversial issue like this, it would have been nice to have a couple well-known evangelical NT scholars face off on this: Scot, Doug Moo, Ben Witherington, Don Hagner, Joel Green, DA Carson, Gordon Fee, Scott Hafemann . . . or at least to give further input.
    There is a new book coming out by John Piper taking issue with NT Wright’s view of justification. This issue is not going anywhere.
    The PCA is one denomination where the discussion is most heated. See
    PCA Study Report on Federal Vision – byFaith Online PDF
    Federal Vision Controversy Simmers

  • Andy,
    Apart from Michael Bird in Scotland, I can’t think of a better person to write this piece. CT is not likely to publish a piece totally committed to the NPP and yet a rant against NPP isn’t fair — so a piece that is more balanced like that of Gathercole, though it leans toward the critical, is just what CT and its readers need to hear.
    Maybe it will lead to some further debates in CT.
    I hope my comment is not too strong, Andy.

  • New Perspective on Paul — a very brief synopsis– Stepping in Faith

    […] If you’ve been hearing the phrase, “The New Perspective on Paul,” and, like me, wondered what exactly it is, I am pleased to announce that Scott McKnight is starting a string of posts hoping to succinctly unravel what the fuss is about. […]

  • I’ll tell you what I noticed about the drawings in the article: That it’s obvious that NT Wright is closest to Paul because he has the same receding hairline and beard.

  • BW

    I don’t doubt that 1st century Judaism was “faith-based,” but that doesn’t stop or forbid its adherents or followers from having confidence in the flesh instead of God’s work. Most churches (regardless of stripe) proclaim the necessity of God-birthed faith; but when you sit many of these congregants down and ask them “so, what is your hope? what are you trusting in?” its not uncommon for people to say, “my good works; my prayer life; my…whatever” (as a pastor, I hear it too often). It seems thats what Paul is saying in Phil. 3. He seems to be saying his confidence was indeed in the flesh and he also seems to contrast himself with his “fellow Jews”. So yeah, I don’t think the Law, the Prophets and the Writings and its subsequent teachings promote a “works based” religion. But it seems Paul sure thinks that’s what’s going on.

  • RJS

    For those who might want to read more, what books would you recommend first – and why?

  • RE: my comment in 25 and Scot’s response in 26.
    Great! Thanks, Scot.

  • Scot,
    The caricature of Jimmy was horrible. I showed it to my wife and asked her to guess who it was. When she gave up and I told her and she guffawed. I wonder if Jimmy has seen this likeness of himself?

  • Excellent that you are discussing this. I’m currently in seminary and assumed that NPP had already won the day in contemporary scholarship. So it was good to hear that this is still a debatable issue, before I head out into a congregation and face opposition.
    Has Christian Century ever done a NPP piece? What was their take?

  • RJS,
    Probably easiest entrance is Tom Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said.
    Then one can get into the major academic works:
    EP Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism
    JDG Dunn, Theology of the Apostle Paul
    JDG Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Law (his famous essay is here)
    Critique in:
    DA Carson, ed., Paul and Variegated Judaism
    P. Stuhlmacher, DA Hagner, Revisiting Paul’s Doctrine of Justification
    M. Seifrid, Justification by Faith

  • Scot thanks for starting this series. I look forward to hearing more each day.
    I was wondering how helpful do you think it is to start with understanding the New Perspective on Jesus before approaching that on Paul?
    Blessings, Tony

  • Josh

    Hey Scot,
    I can’t remember if I read it in a commentary or a work on Pauline theology but I remember something about the Pharisee’s belief that if they obeyed the Torah strictly enough they would satify God and bring about the Lord’s Day of Judgement. This view would have been attractive to many because of Roman oppression. I can also see how this view could come about in light of the OT’s promises that God would bless them and deliver them if they obeyed the Law and lived righteously. Those who lived immorally and did not hold this view would have been seen as holding back God’s return to his people. They probably would have been seen as outcasts and “sinners.” It is easy for me to see how Jesus’ preaching would fit into this scenario. The prodigal son would be a whole paradigm shift for viewing those on the “outside.” The Pharisees emphasis on offering tithes and not honoring the immensely more important Levitical command of loving one’s neighbor (yep, it’s a Levitical command(Lev.19:18;even better 19:34) seems to fit into this view as well.
    I think there can be a law/grace problem in a covenantal nomism context. But I think the problem is not seeing the grace in the Law.

  • Josh,
    I think it is about possible to prove anything from Jewish sources; the issue is always what matters at the core of the biblical and 1st century tradition.
    It is common to say the Pharisees fasted to hasten the day of the Messiah; I don’t recall a text that says it would bring the Day of Judgment.
    Yes, there can be a grace/law problem for covenantal nomism.

  • dan

    I keep thinking the whole NPP issue is one of emphasis at least in comparing Gathercole’s views with Wright’s. Traditional proponents seem to want the gospel to centrally mean “getting right with God “(the vertical relationship) and having the reconciliation of people into one body (the horizontal relationship) as an implication of the gospel. While the NPP (at least Wright’s version) views the gospel as being both.
    I know most conservative people take issue with NPP involving imputation and how works relate to the final judgment, but I don’t think Gathercole has too much of a problem with these issues. In his essay found in Justification in Perspectives: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges” edited by Bruce McCormack, he states that imputation shouldn’t be required in an evangelical statement of confession because of the complexity of the issue and he also seems to articulate a view of works in the final judgment that are similar to Wright and Garlington.

  • tony at #35,
    Just found your comment in the spam detector!
    Sanders, of course, wrote a book on Jesus (Jesus and Judaism), and then T. Wright has Jesus and the Victory of God and Jimmy Dunn has Jesus Remembered and ol’ McKnight has A New Vision for Israel. You might say we are all NPJ!

  • Josh

    I remember where I got that view from. It was out of Larry Hurtado’s commentary on Mark (NIBC).
    Yep, you’re right. You can put together all kinds of scenarios with Jewish literature. As a history minor, I have learned that all history is a matter of interpretation and ones needs a good helping of humility when putting the pieces together. I do think Hurtado’s view has a lot to commend. But the text comes first.
    Scot, does the debate over the phrase in Galatians about being saved “by faith in Christ” or “by the faith of Christ?” After taking first year Greek, I really surprised to find that kristos was in the genetive. But I know I have a long way to go and I don’t have enough Greek knowledge to way in( at least without being stupid).

  • Josh,
    The “faith of Christ” expression is debated furiously and I’ve read the stuff and simply don’t think anything tips the balance clearly in either direction. Hays and Wright do have some persuasive pages, but for me it simply hasn’t made compelling sense yet … so I think we have to leave it open.
    For me, theologically-speaking, it is both: Christ’s fidelity to God and our trust in Christ.

  • Dr. Stephen Westerholm, associate professor of religious studies at McMaster University, has written an excellent and clear paper on the the New Perspective on Paul:

  • Here is a little bit about John Piper’s new book: “The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright”:

  • dan

    What is your view on imputation and works in relationship to the final judgment?

  • Nicholas,
    The Westerholm piece is very good.
    I remember in my doctoral days meeting a scholar at work on Ephesians who told me Eph 2:8-9 convinced him Paul couldn’t be the author of Ephesians.

  • Josh

    Hey Scot,
    Which interpretation do you thinks best in the Galatian context. I am trying to get a good understanding of each of Paul’s arguements in his letters before the fall semester and I am in the middle of 2 Cor. Since you brought this conversation up I am going to be looking extra hard at Galatians’ flow.
    P.S. Yeah, I agree with you on Christ’s fidelity to God and our need for total faith in him. I think a lot of fellas that have got infuriated in the fight are taking the implications a little too far.

  • Josh,
    I side with faith “in” Christ.

  • Great post on the NPP. I fully enjoyed it. But, I must say my two cents. I believe that this is a relevant view of Paul, yet, I also believe that Luther had some relevant thoughts as well. We may not all agree, but I believe that these two separate perspectives are just a swing of the same pendulum. We must carefully weigh each view from the perspective of the other and be careful to judge all things in accordance with scripture. Let us remain biblically true and balanced in our perspectives. Let us keep our eyes on the whole pendulum and not just on one of either of the two extremes. I believe scripture shows us a bigger picture. It is up to scholars to put together a coherent theology, but it all comes back to putting our faith in God. I am not a theologian or do I pretend to be, I just believe that we cannot agree with one perspective without accepting at least some of another, if indeed both are biblically based. I say all this so that we all may be on the same path towards truth with integrity and honesty. This goes for any other “perspective” as well. Thanks for listening to mine.

  • Norton

    What about Krister Stendahl’s article “The Apostle Paul and Introspective Conscience of the West” published in 1963? Wasn’t it Stendahl that got the ball rolling on these ideas way before Sanders?
    PS: I had to read Stendahl in undergrad at a large publich university (’91) and coming from a fairly sheltered conservative evangelical background, it felt like I was reading heresy. Only now can I really appreciate his seminal thought.

  • Yes, Norton, Stendahl’s piece was crucial for getting Luther on the stage. As was GF Moore’s work … but it really wasn’t the “new perspective” until Jimmy put together the significance of Sanders for Paul — and Wright was just beginning his stuff too.

  • art

    I haven’t read the article yet, but I think, based on what you said, it is important to have someone who will put what the NPP(s) are into readable language and not just in theologuespeak. Thanks for doing this Scot. I absolutely love Sanders, Dunn, and Wright. I’m a bit jealous you were able to do Ph.D. work under him.

  • It does seem (as Tony says in #35) that we should first start with a “new perspective on Jesus” before we have a NP on Paul. That McKnight book is pretty good. But its not that pithy essayist style that he likes to use nowadays…
    Scot, could you elaborate on the connection between the NP of Jesus and the NP of Paul?

  • Michael Mercer

    Scot, thanks for the subject and the chance to discuss it. I like what Gord had to say #48. My initial perspective is that the NP ADDS a great deal of clarity to our understanding of justification and makes many texts (especially in a book like Galatians) much easier to grasp. However, we must be careful not to SUBTRACT everything from earlier perspectives that helps us make better sense of other texts (such as Philippians 3 and Romans 4). I too also would like to know how the NP understands “imputation” in the light of their approach to justification.

  • Hi Scot
    Thanks for taking the subject up. I am really looking forward to reading the rest of this series. Is there any chance you could take up Chris VanLandingham’s argument somewhere in it?

  • Hey Scot –
    Thanks for posting this. I am currently here at Camp-of-the-Woods in Speculator, NY with my family and friends on vacation and have had a lot of conversation about NPP. Perhaps I am just not an elequent speaker or whatever but it seems as though I am not being as clear as I can be. I will be sure to pass this blog entry along to them as a reference to bein this study of the NPP.
    I hope you and Kris are doing well. Thanks once again for teaching our Galatians class at BTS. I hope that I can continue to learn from you both as a student as well as a fellow believer and scholar (in the works anyway).
    Thanks again –

  • Ross,
    I don’t know VanLandingham’s piece.
    I’ll see if I can weave something in about imputation this week, but it is not really something NPP brings up — the proponents of NPP get asked about it aplenty.

  • Bob,
    Never in my life have I asked the question quite that way. I’ve got to think about it.
    NP Jesus and NP Paul: relationship.

  • Josh

    Hey Scot,
    The work by VanLandingham is called: Judgement and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul. I think his aim is to reconcile(probably not the proper word) justification by grace and the eschatological judgement of works.
    It’s on my to read list. It would be great if you could read it and tell us if it’s worth reading or not. I’m a po boy in college with a family so I have to make my selections wisely.
    I am reading through Wrights The Mission of God in the Old Testament and I am wondering how much it will connect with the NPP.

  • The Upward Way Press » Blog Archive » NPP

    […] Scot McKnight has begun a series explaining the New Perspective on Paul. If you don’t know what that is, Scot will tell you. If you do know what that is, you’ll learn a lot more from Scot.   [link] […]

  • Scot,
    I’ve read Wright’s *What Saint Paul Really Said* and it made a lot of sense to me. Like many, I’m still wondering what all the fuss is about? Denominations booting out pastors over this? And Piper? If it’s not classical Calvinistic determinism for Piper, it’s got to be DANGEROUS. Good grief.

  • Scot McKnight on NPP « Anchor for the Soul

    […] Scot McKnight on NPP Scot McKnight is blogging about the New Perspective on Paul. If you’re curious about this turn in New Testament studies, check it out here and here. Explore posts in the same categories: new perspective on Paul […]

  • Peggy

    Wow…being out of the loop for a day is disastrous! 😉
    What an interesting topic. I, of course, would say that a proper understanding of covenant is essential, and too frequently missing, from most discussions.
    The challenge, as I have worked with it over the years, is to help people see that it is not a matter of faith OR works…but that faith “in” Christ allows one to accept the new covenant offered by God through Christ as the sacrifice and mediator of this new covenant.
    Much of the confusion comes when one forgets that there are terms and conditions to be kept in this covenant. It’s not a “get in the door and then you’re finished” kind of deal. It requires covenant-keeping. And when people don’t understand covenant-keeping, they think of it as “works.” But the “works” of covenant keeping don’t “get” you in, they are the evidence that you are, actually, in. For the new covenant, this evidence, the work, if you will, is summed up with the words “like Christ.” If we are to show that we are parties to this new covenant, we will be growing more and more like Christ.
    The “faith” is about believing what God has done for us in Christ and joining the new covenant…the “works” is about acting like we really believe that the Holy Spirit is able to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ, as we submit daily to this process.
    It is a powerfully simple (not simplistic) concept…one that those of us who just can’t process all the high-level stuff can get our heads and hearts and hands and feet around–and then get busy letting God do in us what he promised…and there is no question that God will be able to finish the good work that he starts in us.
    But, being in the non-Calvinist camp, as well, I say that we must cooperate with God in this process. That is our part of the covenant-keeping exercise.
    As I’ve said other places, the wonderful part of this whole exercise is that Christ’s perfect and once-for-all sacrifice was sufficient for both the covenant-making and the covenant-keeping requirements.
    Praise God for his unspeakable gift…

  • Andie

    This is sure a helpful discussion. I know others have said it, but I want to add my name to list of those who are terribly grateful for finally getting a picture of NPP that makes sense and is accessible to those of us who aren’t biblical scholars.

  • Dr. Platypus » Blog Archive » A “New Perspective” Primer

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  • Andy Naselli » Blog Archive » Scot McKnight on the New Perspective

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  • Everett

    Re: the book list in #34, the book Carson edited is Justification and Variegated Nomism.

  • Another good book on the NPP is Seyoon Kim’s rebuttal of Dunn, Paul and the New Perspective.
    I will admit I am on the reformed side of the NPP – but that is not to say there are some positives to it – but on the whole I think it is flawed – the Sanders, Dunn, Wright triumvarate are not always (w)right and seem to think they have set up an new paradigm greater than that of the Reformation when really it is just a house of cards.
    One thing folks need to remember about Sanders is for one, his is not a Christian – is is a secular sociologist. Also, he gathered his perspectives on Judaism by reading Rabbinical literature from 200AD to 200BC with the assumption there is no change in that time period (not realizing perhaps that the Temple dessruction might affect the Rabbinics a bit).
    Perhaps grace is a theme in Judaism but by the time of Jesus and Paul – it was clear the Jewish leaders pacticed a religion of works righteousness and this is what Paul (and Jesus) came against.
    One of the biggest problems with the NPP is the problem of (or the lack thereof) sin – it performed the old switcheroo and made sin a general problem and not a specific problem of the human heart. The Cross was not to reconcile man to God but instead functioned more lik a clock on the wall – it becomes a sort of time indicator so to speak, what God is doing in time. When you take out the Cross you alter the whole structure of the Christian religion. The is the main reason the NPP is on dangerous grounds.

  • Brian,
    Thanks for writing in.
    I have to say something though, and I say it because it affects how blogs work. When you start talking about someone you should know what you are saying, so let me begin with this:
    1. Sanders is not a “sociologist.” He’s a professor of religion.
    2. He read rabbinics but his books are much deeper than that and you must not have read him to make this remark. Which means something else needs to be said: don’t accuse authors of something unless you’ve read them. Sanders works through the pseudepigraph and DSS and has a major, major volume on Judaism rooted in Josephus.
    3. Sanders does not assume there is no change. Again, another sign you haven’t read his books.
    4. The “Perhaps” paragraph is the QED and you can’t say “clearly” without knowing at the same time that lots and lots of folks disagree with you.
    5. Where you got this about the cross in the NPP is beyond me — who are you talking about here? Sanders, Dunn, Wright or all of them?
    I’m sorry to say this, but I have to. You are full of confidence in your judgment, and I know some scholars who agree with you, but to come to that judgment requires some patient reading and some judicious use of that reading.
    Brian let me ask you this: Have you read Sanders’ major book? or Dunn’s theology of Paul? Or Wright’s books?

  • Wright before the New Perspective » Metacatholic

    […] Simon Gathercole’s article in Christianity Today on the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) – not as far as I can see yet online – has prompted two blog series so far. One is Scot McKnight’s on the Jesus Creed, which begins with this post. It makes a fairly useful introduction both to the NPP and the issues raised. The other is a summary of  the article, so far in five parts, by Matthew Montonini, which begins here. In the absence of the article, both series make useful reading for people trying to get a sense of the NPP. […]

  • Scot – I do admit I need to read more widely on the issue -though I have read Sander’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism, I have read some of Dunn’s theology on Paul, I’ve read Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said (still need to read Paul in Fresh Perspective), I’ve read Stendal’s lecture on Luther, Seyoon Kim’s Paul and the New Perspective. Part of my assertions about the cross and the NPP lie not so much in what is said as in what isn’t said.

  • Eine neue Perspektive at

    […] “The New Perpective on Paul” – was ist das? Diese Frage beantwortete Scot McKnight diese Woche in fünf Einträgen auf seinem vielgelesenen Blog Jesus Creed: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. DoSi wies schon vor ein paar Tagen darauf hin und schrieb einige Gedanken dazu unter dem vielsagenden Titel Ein blinder Fleck der evangelischen Theologie? Zumindest DoSis Gedanken sollte jeder lesen… Viel Material dazu (und anderen spannenden Themen) findet man auch auf der N.T. Wright Page. […]

  • Todd Littleton – The Edge of the Inside » Saturday is for Links …

    […] Scot McKnight is doing a series on New Perspectives. He has posted five parts to date. […]

  • Two recent links on the New Perspective Issue: McKnight and Gathercole « Sets ‘n’ Service

    […] For those interested in playing the game of catchup with the New Perspective Issue there are two recent articles that I’ve found helpful. First is Simon Gathercole’s Christianity Today article (What did Paul really mean?); and Second is Scot McKnight’s five part series over at JesusCreed (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; and Part 5). […]

  • Prolegomena » Burlap sack

    […] Scot McKnight begins looking at the ‘new perspective on Paul‘. […]

  • Paulus in neuer Perspektive » Der Sämann » Blog Archiv » Paulus in neuer Perspektive

    […] Teil 1 – Alles beginnt mit E. P. Sanders Abgesehen von den Forschungen zum historischen Jesus (über die Scot, hurra, hurra! gerade eine neue Serie angefangen hat) handelt es sich bei der »New Perspective on Paul« um die bedeutendste Entwicklung in der biblischen Forschung innerhalb der letzten 50 Jahre. Alles beginnt mit dem 1977 veröffentlichten Paul and Palestinian Judaism von E.P. Sanders. Die Kernaussagen von Sanders waren: […]

  • Recent Discussion on the New Perspective on Paul at PastorBlog

    […] New Perspective 1 […]

  • Robert

    The main (and there are others) problem with Gathercole’s article is that while his single paragraph summary of NPP in the first part of his CT article is about as accurate a single paragraph summary one could hope for, his subsequent attempt to extrapolate from there by lumping the various proponents together to present what may be best described as a “composite view”, ends up distorting what any one individual proponent advocates. From my point of view this is particularly unfair to N.T. Wright, who would not agree with at least half of the conclusions Gathercole draws about NPP, and whose contribution to NPP and beyond is of massive importance for a number of areas of concern, particular for those devoted to the evangelical dispensationalist position or the reform covenantal position. Wirght provides helpful correctives to both, ones never presented to me by my seminary professors. The worst part of all of this is that Gathercole is writing in the pages of the mainstream organ of the dissemination of contemporary Christian thought, which tends to take a reactionary or polemical approach to most topics, with the result that the novice reader (and most CT readers are just that) will be completely confused as to whether PPN is a a good or a bad thing, and given the tone of his article (´The new perspective cannot merely be written off as a disaster from start to finish”) , and will more than likely conclude that it is a bad thing. This is unfortunate, again particularly with respect to Wright. Wright’s more popular book “Simply Christian” which of course builds on all his more scholarly writings, is a wonderful book that not only does what evangelicals in particular think C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” does, but does it far better and which is far more “biblical” sound, NNP or not. I like Lewis and owe a debt to him for having discovered “Mere Christianity” when one’s only other popular alternative was either Francis Schafer, who was no philosopher and gave us a “propositional” faith, which is completely useless, particularly in a post modern world or Josh McDowell, who well lets leave it at that, but if you read Lewis actually he wrote (rather than what you recall that he wrote), particularly about what Christians believe, its impossible not to wonder why evangelicas have so embraced him. He’s certainly not one of the, not by a long shot.