The New Perspective Revised

In my life time the most significant book on Paul has been E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977) because it both shifted interest in Judaism but completely shook up how scholars understood Paul. Since Sanders there have been major articulations of Pauline theology, including those of J.D.G. Dunn and N.T. Wright, but they build on and take further what was said by Sanders.

In Mike Bird’s new book, The Apostle Paul, there are four views of Paul: the Reformed view by Tom Schreiner, the Catholic view by L.T. Johnson, the post New Perspective view by Douglas Campbell, and the Jewish view of Mark Nanos. Today’s post will look at Campbell’s piece.

What do you see as the major problems with the traditional reading of Paul? What do you see as the major problems with the New Perspective on Paul? Do you think Campbell’s reading helps us forward?

In essence, and Campbell gets this right when many don’t, the core of the New Perspective is a new view of Judaism and a new view of Paul rooted in that new view of Judaism. The “old” perspective on Paul, it is argued, overcooked Judaism into a works-based religion. This led to religion being man’s attempt to justify himself, and the whole gospel of Paul was read as a response to this fundamental anthropological pride. Hence, we read in folks like Tim Keller of two options: performance vs. grace/faith. I see this all over, so Keller’s not alone. The New Perspective calls this into question because it argues that this “performance” stuff emerges from a false view of Judaism and therefore from a Judaism Paul could not have been opposing. Paul’s concerns were elsewhere. Put differently, the old perspective thinks Paul’s concerns were anthropology: the human arrogance of self-justification before God, and that means the essence of gospel preaching is to get humans to perceive their pride. Again, this is not what the New Perspective thinks Paul was on about.

Campbell, however, goes beyond anything being said by the New Perspective, though he agrees completely with its view of Judaism. He thinks the New Perspective explanations of Paul — Dunn, Wright, oddly not really dealing with Sanders — are not good enough and so he revises those explanations. I would say he radically revises.

1. Campbell thinks Paul’s theology turns on three axes: that it is revealed by God to him, that it is Trinitarian (and here he is thoroughly Nicene and orthodox), and missional (his message arises from his mission).

2. Campbells thinks soteriology and gospel are one and the same. [I disagree, but only in emphasis or order.] And he thinks that gospel is found, not in Romans 1:18-3:26, which is classic, but in Romans 5–8. He finds here a God whose work in us cannot be stopped, and he finds an ethic that transforms through the Spirit and transcends the Jewish Torah. [This last point leads to Mark Nanos’ strong disagreements.] He is Barthian and Torrancian in his approach.

3. Campbell doesn’t really follow the assignment, which was followed by Schreiner and Johnson, which means we get his closer reading of how to read Romans 5–8.

4. The three persons of the Trinity are indistinguishable in Romans 5–8. Humans are fundamentally relational beings. Christ determines humans not Adam. Since Christ is the solution, Moses is not. (He calls this “thinking backward,” which is a variant of the “from solution to plight.”) The ecclesial approach of Paul is family and he uses the term “brothers” for the Body of Christ.

Both Johnson and Schreiner criticize Campbell for insufficient attention to the rest of the Pauline corpus.

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  • In Campbell’s massive tome, The Deliverance of God, he does interact at length with Sanders (and almost everyone else in the field!).

  • Alan K

    Excited you are reviewing this work. IMO, Campbell’s method takes seriously that Saul became Paul, that Peter had a vision of a picnic from heaven, and that the disciples’ unbelief was overcome. In short, the disciples became apostles when their salvation history was re-narrated in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ. If Paul is apocalyptic, then should we not be apocalyptic as well?

    If Campbell did not follow the assignment, then perhaps we can assume he judged the assignment inadequate to the task of getting a true view of Paul.

  • Norman

    An observation that I would throw out there is that Paul wasn’t alone in recognizing the spiritual implications of the OT. If we look closely at Hebrews chapter 11 there is an understanding that some ancient faithful people were seeing the same ideas and concepts that Christ as messiah inaugurated.

    Heb 11: 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the land. … 39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

    Paul explains these concepts robustly and constantly goes back to the OT scriptures to validate his concepts. In fact I would go so far as saying that Paul was interpreting the OT in the manner that it was projected and intended as highly messianic toward spiritualization instead of literalizing. Ezekiel in its projections toward an overthrow by God of the corrupt shepherds of Israel also distinctly looks toward a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone which Paul quotes.

    2 Cor 3: 3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts … but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

    Eze 36: 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    The four views books gives some great insights into interpretive differences among Christians. I am sometimes concerned that many Christians don’t know who to trust or what to believe since interpretive pluralism seems to be the norm on just about every issue where there are almost four or more views on any conceivable theologoical or scriptural issue (I am afraid for many Christians, this is leading to a kind of I can’t trust the Bible because there are too many views or too many translations).

    I hope more people read or discover Douglas Campbell’s books (this whole issue of doing post-holocaust theology and the central function of apocalyptic are important issues for Christians to consider). Johnson’s Catholic perspective is one of the most comprehensive in dealing with Campbell but I really don’t get some of the more negative remarks that Johnson and others use at times to make their points? Maybe some of these four view books need to be face to face encounters and responses rather than written papers responding to one another (with no more conversation after that).

    I see both Campbell and Nano’s viewpoints trying to be more faithful to the Jewish context of Paul’s words as well as to being more fair in dealing with Jewish sensitivities and more accurately describing their beliefs and practices. I really like Nano’s Jewish perspective and I am a little surprised that Nano’s still sees the new perspective, even Campbell’s post-new perspective as superssionist. I am not sure that is accurate but I do understand how others might see it that way. Maybe Nano’s did not like Campbell’s vocabularly that Christian ethics transcend Jewish law but it seems to me one could just as well say “fulfills” which I suspect both sides might be more happy with? And when it comes to supersessonism, there is always going to be a certain amount of tension of when God does a new work, something is fullfilled or transcended.

  • Matt Edwards

    It is interesting that Campbell was chosen to represent the New Perspective. There are serious flaws in The Deliverance of God, especially in the way in which he determines what material in Romans represents “the real Paul” and what represents Paul’s play acting (mocking a hypothetical false teacher). Campbell is able to throw out huge chunks of Romans by saying, “Paul isn’t really advocating that; he’s mocking it.”

    I do like the emphasis on Paul’s mission forming his theology, but I think Francis Watson addresses this better than Campbell in his book Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles. He repeats Sanders’ assertion that Paul’s problem with Judaism was that “it wasn’t Christianity,” only in a more credible way. Watson argues that Paul struggled with the Jewish rejection of his message, and thus concluded that the law must be faulty if people were choosing it over Jesus. I think that makes sense. Saul the Pharisee seemed perfectly content with seeking to be justified by works of the law–what happened to him to change his mind? I think it has to be his theophany and his failed mission to the Jews/successful mission to the Gentiles.

    The thing that the New Persective gets most right is that it is historically plausible. When Paul speaks of his former life in Judaism, he seems satisfied with his performance–not despairing of himself. Also, in the places in which he proclaims the Gospel (the speeches in Acts and in a few places in his writings), he focuses more on Jesus being the consummation of Israel’s story, not mankind’s inability to justify himself through law obedience. The “old” perspective makes more sense in medieval Catholicism than it does first century Judaism.

    What are the major problems with the New Perspective? I havent seen a great explanation of 2 Cor 5:21. NT Wright’s is the best, but even it leaves me a bit dissatisfied. Also, the “old” perspective guys’ insistence that the New Testament be a source for information about first century Judaism is legitimate and problematic. The case for covenantal nomism isn’t as strong as guys like Dunn and Sanders insist it is, and there are places in the NT that read like the “old” perspective.

  • Rob

    I think it is necessary to point out that N.T. Wright doesn’t fully call himself “new perspective.” Reading his book “Justification” will explain the details. He actually has some major issues with Sanders and Dunn. I deem him outside of the new perspective and somewhat in a category all his own. I know of no other writer who comes closer to what I believe Paul’s perspective was.

  • Alan K

    Matt #5,
    What you consider flaws in The Deliverance of God, I consider genius. Campbell does not throw out huge chunks of Romans. He merely suggests a reading that makes the text coherent and comprehensible. The reason that the New Perspective arose was because the reading of Romans over the last 500 years pretty much was like taking two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and forcing them together and pronouncing that they fit. The New Perspective made the pieces fit together more comfortably, but it required flipping one of the pieces over on its back. Campbell has called such methods to account , as well as suggesting a way in which the pieces can fit together without being forced or flipped over. Once one gets over the audacity of his suggestion that Romans 1:18-32 is prosopopoeia and consider its real possibility, one can appreciate that Campbell has written perhaps the most significant book on Paul since Paul and Palestinian Judaism.

  • Matt Edwards

    Alan K,

    I don’t think Campbell’s reading of Romans is as tidy as you make it out to be. One of the things I was taught in seminary about exegesis was “an ounce of evidence is worth a pound of speculation.” Campbell’s idea is novel, but he doesn’t have any hard evidence that Paul actually uses prosopopeia in Romans 1:18–32. Further, the ideas in that passage are repeated in Romans 5–8, which Campbell thinks is Paul.

    I wrote a review of the book for this site a few years ago, you can search for it if you’re interested in some push back against Campbell’s ideas.

  • CGC

    Hi Rob,
    I think you have a point about Wright. Wright doesn’t fit into a “new perspective” box and he is probably one of the best contemporary interpreters of Paul. Thanks for sharing some good insights . . . 🙂

  • scotmcknight

    Rob and CGC, au contraire. Tom Wright is new perspective. There is the old and there is the new, and he’s on the new side of the ledger. There is not any “theology” of the new perspective though. Remember, the secret to the new perspective is a new view of Judaism, and once one admits that — and the old perspective folks tend to want a works-based Judaism (eg, Carson’s two volume edited work pushed in that direction) — one explores Paul in a new key. The new perspective is that exploration, and there is a variety of viewpoints at work, including Sanders, Dunn, Wright, et al..

  • Todd Moore

    I wonder if you could save me some time in finding NT Wright’s explanation of 2Cor 5:21?
    BTW – Here are my two cents on the subject. It is basically this: that 2Cor 5:21 parallels Rom 8:1-4 in thought. Note that both pericopes depict Christ as a sin offering (as the objective basis for righteousness). Both continue – Rom 8 more clearly than 2Cor 5 – with our becoming the righteousness of God. The rub is that it is not via juridicial accounting, but via a participationist framework (through our life in union with Christ). The Law’s righteous requirements are met in us, who are led by the Spirit. That is why there is no condemnation, “for the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death” (a far from the life of slavery to sin in Rom 7 for one like Saul – who was with the Law, but without the Spirit).

  • CGC

    Hi Scot,
    In broad classifications, Wright is “new perspective.” But Wright even nuances things as Rob suggests that he can’t be easily labeled or lumped together with everyone in a large group (just like you said Carson and company do). Neither Rob nor I was saying that Wright is not “New Perspective.” I was responding to Rob’s thoughts about Wright doesn’t ‘fully’ call himself it even though he is a part of it. Carson and company want to lump people like Dunn and Wright as fully adopting Sanders paradigm (which Wright has said on several occassions, there are similarities but some stark differences as well). This was the context of my words of not putting Wright into a “New Perspective” BOX. I also see Wright as new perspective versus the old. But after saying that, the group is diverse and eccletic and people continue to critigue Wright by saying things that goes along with Sanders or someone else considered New Persepctive that doesn’t even accurately represent what Wright actually believes on that specific or particular point of discussion!

  • CGC

    PS – I did not read closely enough Rob’s last point of seeing Wright outside of the New perspective. That is probably what you are reacting to Scot, and yes, I would not go that far (although I’d rather take Wright on his own terms, in his own category as Rob says, than trying to squeeze Wright into a tight Sanders paradigm that Carson and others try to do to Wright).

  • I can’t quite believe that anyone who has read N.T. Wright’s *What Saint Paul Really Said* would conclude that Wright is not “new perspective.”

  • CGC

    Hi Scot,
    Speaking about current biblical scholarship on Paul, I thought you were supposed to be one of the speakers at the “Jesus, Criteria, Demise of Authenticity” conference? I know they moved it from Illinois to Ohio but I noticed your name is not on the list of speakers?

  • Phil Miller

    I read Campbell’s The Deliverance of God a few years, and despite it being somewhat repetitive and tedious in part, I was very impressed. I actually found is reading of Romans to be pretty convincing, although I’m not sure I’m ready to jump on board completely. One thing that struck me was that I can’t see how one could fully embrace his view without fully embracing universalism. He takes the position that because of Christ all our justified before God, and that an individual’s faith in God plays no role at all in salvation. Everything is based on God’s covenant faithfulness.

    Like I said, it’s been a few years since I read the book, and I don’t have it in front of me, so I’m not prepared to go into the details of it. But I’ve been surprised that the issue of universalism hasn’t come more into the discussions about the NPP. I honestly think that it’s at the root of some of the pushback against it.

  • Norman

    I would recommend reading a variety of Pauline commentators in order to pick up on the various emphasis’s that each author can bring to the table. A recent one that I highly recommend although he like others has some limiting viewpoints is Tom Holland’s “Romans: The Divine Marriage: A Biblical Theological Commentary”. If one wants to explore some of his applications without investing in this expensive book is to go to his online book “Contours of Pauline Theology” which is in PDF format and is freely downloadable as separate chapters. His work on the CORPORATE BODY understanding that Paul utilizes (especially in Rom 6-7) is one of the best and builds upon previous overlooked scholars work such as John A. T. Robinson’s book “The Body”. I would go so far as saying that unless one understands Paul’s extensive use of the body metaphor and how pervasive it is in Romans and 1 Cor 15 especially that one is limiting their Jewish understanding of his concepts.

    @Phil #16,

    IMO, one of the reasons so many believe Paul is teaching universalism in Romans 5-8 is the lack of recognition of Paul’s Jewish corporate identity that underlies his writing. I believe we assume too much when we think Paul is speaking universally about the totality of humanity in his “all” statements when there is a Jewish corporate background qualifier that limits the discussion and inclusion to the faithful. The Jewish concept of humanity in the Image of God becomes reality when one is faithful to YHWH and as Paul demonstrates through the risen Christ especially in Rom 6:1-14.

    Obviously Romans 5-8 along with 1 Cor 15 is one of the most complex and difficult sections of Pauline writings we deal with and that is why one needs to dig deeply into the Jewish corporate understanding instead of thinking individually as most of us tend to read those sections.

  • Matt Edwards

    Hey Todd (#11)!

    Wright’s view of 2 Cor 5:21 can be found in Justification 158–167. The strength of his view is that he masterfully integrates 5:21 into the greater argument of 2:14–6:13, and especially 5:11–21. Since 5:11–21 is about being an ambassador for God, Wright argues that 5:21 is about our “embodying God’s faithfulness” (Justification 163). In other words, it’s not about imputation but about incarnational ministry.

    It makes a lot of sense in context, but if you were to yank 5:21 out of context and read it for what it is with no knowledge of the surrounding verses, there is no way you would come up with Wright’s reading. I still think Wright’s reading is the best, but it seems like Paul could have come up with a better way of saying what Wright says Paul is saying.

  • Simon H

    Dear all,

    Good to see Doug’s work getting some broader discussion.

    See here:

    for a video presentation by Doug Campbell at the ‘Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul’ two day conference at King’s College, London organised by my good friend Dr Chris Tilling. Here he gives an overview of his view of Romans 1-3 and at the end of the talk ‘acts out’ his interpretation of Romans 1-3 as he believes it would have been read. I was there during this and although initally sceptical, had a penny drop moment. The idea of ‘serious flaws’ in regard to Doug I think is misguided. I was surprised by one heavy weight NT scholar who agreed with Doug’s reading of Romans 1-3 . Doug’s views need serious consideration.

    The rest of the two day conference engaging with Doug and his work can be found here:

    Best, Simon

  • Dn4sty

    The NT Wright page has an entire article on Wrights understanding of 2 Cor. 5:21

    you can find it here

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    For those who like video, see Kevin Vanhoozer humorous peace talk between new perspectives and old protestants at:

    I like Vanhoozer trying to take the best of Reformed theology and the best of N. T. Wright and wed them together (even though I am not Reformed, I am ecumenical). How successful he is, I would be interested in what others think?

    I do like how Vanhoozer takes Wright’s reframing of Paul and makes the paradigm shift from soteriology to ecclesiology. I also like his use of Calvin’s “Union with Christ.” I find this all fascinating since there never was a protestant reformation among the Eastern Orthodox. For an Eastern Orthodox perspective on Paul, see Theodore Stylianpoulos work that talks very positively of the new perspective (particularly N. T. Wright) in Pauline theology. See his “Encouraged by the Scriptures: Essays on Scripture, Interpretation, and Life (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2011).


  • I think NTW got it just about right in his ExpTim review of Doug’s book: “it’s easier to solve the puzzle if you sweep half the pieces off the table” (or something very like that). I was at the KCL conference, and found Robin Griffiths-Jones’ response on Rom 1 very helpful; the effective universalism is also a problem; and the “we are all in Christ, just wake up and smell the coffee” aspect is also very odd when it comes to Paul’s judgment passages, methinks.

  • scotmcknight

    CGC, Yes, I schedule my speaking so that I’m gone only a certain amount per month so when they moved it to a travel location, I had to back out … too much flying … I will miss being there.

  • Scot you said, “There is not any “theology” of the new perspective though. Remember, the secret to the new perspective is a new view of Judaism…”. If there is no theology of the NPP (which I totally agree with), how can we talk about a Post-NPP perspective? Should proposals from people like Campbell, Kirk, Barclay, Bird, and others be treated as variations within NPP rather than Post-NPP viewpoints?