Challenging the New Perspective on Paul

E.P. Sanders, and then following him J.D.G. Dunn and N.T. Wright, challenged the traditional Christian consensus of how to “read” Judaism at the time of Paul (and Jesus) in 1977 with his well-known and must-read Paul and Palestinian Judaism. The consensus was that Judaism was a works-righteousness religion in which Jews, not on the basis of their covenant-based election by God but on the basis of merit and works, sought to earn favor with God. While there was nuance, and dissenting voices like G.F. Moore, this was the ruling paradigm. So, when Paul said “not by works of the law” most people thought they knew exactly what Paul meant: human pride, self-justification, and weighing one’s merits in a scale so the tip favored the human’s accumulation of merits.

Sanders proved that Judaism was far more complex than this and that its “pattern of religion” was in fact a covenant based summons by God to obey the Torah. So Sanders said Judaism’s pattern of religion was not merit seeking but instead “covenantal nomism” (covenant-based call to do the Law [nomos]). This required a re-evaluation of what Paul was opposing and what “works of the law” meant and whether or not the opponents of Paul were seeking to establish themselves by earning favor with God.

Sanders won the day; the vast majority of NT scholars believe today that Judaism was not a merit-seeking system and, in fact, if one is not careful one ends up either in anti-Semitism or its softer version anti-Judaism or in some kind of Marcionite denial of the truth of the Old Testament. [This paragraph deserves extensive commentary but this is not the place.]

But Sanders and the so-called “New Perspective on Paul” were challenged by some, most notably Reformed or Calvinistic thinkers and exegetes. I am persuaded that the “problems” for the NPP are far more problems for Calvinists and Lutherans and much less so for Arminians, who have never had as much of a problem with the issue of obedience and works, and in some ways for Anabaptists, who valued obedience and discipleship as central to what faith means. (Frustratingly to many of us, many critics repeat talking points and have not read the Jewish evidence at all.) The most recent challenge, a nuanced one, comes from Preston Sprinkle, Paul and Judaism Revisited: A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation (2013). It’s a good book though whether or not his proposals will satisfy deserves more than can be said here, and whether or not his sketch of Paul would fit Jesus is yet another one worthy of discussion. [Preston and I have corresponded about this review and his comments made this post better.]

Here are Preston’s big ideas:

The Old Testament, when it comes to “divine and human agency” (how much are humans involved in salvation? how are they involved?) and “continuity vs. discontinuity” (how different is Paul from Judaism?), reveals two major strands of thinking. Preston calls these the “Deuteronomic” and the “Prophetic.” By these he means that one must repent before one gets restoration or salvation and the other that it all comes from the grace and intervention of God (so that repentance is not the precipitating factor).

He then examines these themes, examining what the Dead Sea Scrolls teach and comparing that with what the apostle Paul teaches: the curse of the law, the eschatological spirit, anthropological pessimism, justification, and judgment according to works. Each of these concludes with admirable nuance for each side of the comparison — Qumran and Paul.

His fundamental conclusion is that pockets (sectarian elements) of Judaism are Deuteronomic, or mostly so, while the apostle Paul is Prophetic, with some nuances all over the place. In essence, then, he comes out suggesting that the New Perspective overcooked “continuity” between Paul and Judaism and undercooked the discontinuity and that while Judaism has a stronger emphasis on human agency Paul had a stronger emphasis on divine agency in salvation.

A few questions:

1. I wonder if Deuteronomic vs. Prophetic doesn’t deny the coherency of these two themes in the authors of the Old Testament and therefore the coherency of grace and election and covenant and the simultaneous demand of repentance and obedience for salvation. In other words, at times some suggest Judaism’s emphasis is Deuteronomic without the Prophetic. I doubt any Jewish text is entirely Deuteronomic and I doubt any Prophetic text is not also Deuteronomic. One text he saw as almost entirely Prophetic has some core statements about covenant that are relentlessly Deuteronomic, and Preston Sprinkle is aware of such texts and offers reasonable explanations. Notice  Jeremiah 7:23; 11:4, where covenant election and grace are set up in conditionality, and the point must be seen: we are dealing here with covenant status dependent upon or shaped by or conditioned by obedience:

Jer. 7:23 But this command I gave them, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you.”

Jer. 11:4 which I commanded your ancestors when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron-smelter, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God…

At work here in theological hermeneutics is what is sometimes called the “failure” of the Mosaic covenant and the completion (words are important here and I chose a neutral one) of that covenant with the New Covenant. This entire approach is shaped by Augustinian, Lutheran and Calvinist hermeneutics. Part of the NPP is that those categories do not emerge sufficiently from a 1st Century Jewish framework. I will emphasize that Preston knows these texts and seeks to resolve them within his Deuteronomic and Prophetic approach.

2. The bigger issue for me is that this term “salvation” is slippery. Frankly, the OT texts are not about personal salvation but about Israel; so too Judaism mostly. But the NT stuff is more or less taken to be personal and individual. What happens, then, to “restoration” or “salvation” when it is more corporate focused?

At work, as well, is that soteriology is shaped by discussing in the OT how covenant people are restored (top of p. 34). I wonder if that how most in the Protestant tradition understand “salvation” in the NT — in fact, I’m confident they see it as “entry” into the covenant. Hence, for me there is a lingering question: Are we comparing the same senses of salvation?

3. I do wonder how much rhetoric and choice of terms shapes how much “works-based” stuff we see in Judaism, and now that Gary Anderson has virtually proven that “debt” and “merit” were the new commercial metaphor at work in Judaism for “sin” and “obedience” (see his book Sin: A History), I have to ask if we have not overdone the works element in Judaism while ignoring the covenant and grace themes. To his credit, Preston works hard to nuance works and grace and divine and human agency with variety in each text. But for me the positing of the Deuteronomic over against the Prophetic is shaped by that very issue — how much is human agency involved?

4. But this simply misses how we have learned to read our own faith. Read the Gospel of Matthew (e.g., Matthew 6:1, 2, 5, 16) and watch this word “reward” on the part of Jesus. Is Jesus Deuteronomic? (Preston doesn’t answer this but I don’t know how one could read Jesus and not see his term Deuterononomic instead of Prophetic.) And doesn’t Paul say our final state is on the basis of works in his judgment by works texts, like 2 Cor 5? So, are we minimizing the Deuteronomic in our faith and maximizing it in Judaism? All in the attempt to prove we are better and right?

This is a big one: Let us assume my suspicion is right, namely, that Jesus fits the Deuteronomic paradigm. What does that say about Paul? That he departed? That we need to re-visit Paul? (This is what the NPP does, after all.) Or does it suggest the Deuteronomic and the Prophetic fit more closely into a single coherency? Anyway, the two approaches to OT themes sure makes me wonder what Preston does with Jesus.

5. OK, there’s something at work here in Paul especially about grace that shapes the whole system of thought. And there is discontinuity here. But in my judgment the New Perspective offered an important and enduring correction from which we cannot move back. Sprinkle’s effort here is a good one with plenty of sensitive nuance, but this is not the final word.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • kzarley

    Interesting post. Complex subject. Seems NPP makes an improvement.

  • Don Bryant

    Preston Sprinkle blogged sometime back about the New Perspective, and I followed his series and found them “down to earth” and appreciative of NPP. But to me he seemed to come down clearly on the side of those who remained unconvinced. He demonstrated a knack for boiling down the controversy to a stripped down enumeration of differences. I came across this book, and based on his well done postings, believe he will bring some light and not just heat to the ongoing discussion. But, as you mentioned, Scot, the NPP is not nearly so threatening to us who are Arminian. We are comfortable with the moral drama that is played out in a synergistic model of salvation.

  • http://www.wheretoreach.us/ T Freeman

    Perhaps I’ll read the book, but it sounds a lot like the Law/Gospel hermeneutics of Luther with new terms. And yes, that leads us eventually to some problems with Jesus let alone Paul and James and John.

  • Orton1227

    I think most people miss the corporateness of salvation. I think this is mostly due to the misteaching of resurrection, which has become solely individual and bodily resurrection, despite the fact that most of the time (if not all) Paul uses the plural “our” and the singular “body” to talk about resurrection. And I think most of Romans deals with this “resurrection” and “salvation” (which is a part of the “resurrection”) – it being a resurrection out of the body of Adam/sin/death and into the body of Christ/life (when i say body of Adam and body of Christ, I mean corporate body, like “student body”). This, after all, was the promise given to Israel, and what they believed, that a True Israel (a remnant) would be resurrected.
    David Curtis has some great sermons on it (as he preached through Romans most recently). Here’s one: http://www.bereanbiblechurch.org/transcripts/romans_new/8_5-11.htm

  • tmarsh0307

    I find it frustrating that Reformed and/or Calvinist theologians and NT scholars attempt to purport nuanced arguments that Paul somehow actually said what Luther and Calvin thought he said in order to shore up their theological systems. In my humble opinion, they are not interested in historical Judaism and the context from which Christianity arose. Rather, they are concerned with defending a theological system. DA Carson’s Justification and Variegated Nomism is a more scholarly example, while John Piper’s challenge to NT Wright a few years ago is a more popular example. All are concerned for the preservation of the “gospel” which they equate is the “Reformed doctrine of justification by faith.” I am all for the gospel, but, in essence, the gospel is “Jesus is Lord” at its essence – not the Reformed doctrine of Justification by Faith

  • tmarsh0307

    I apologize for redundancy in my comment!

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    Hello Scot.

    You raise many profound questions which transcends the reach of my theological knowledge and understanding.

    I believe there are many contradictory human voices within Scripture so that you are certainly going to find both monergism, synergism and even double predestination within the pages of the OT.

    I’ve the feeling that Paul contradicted himself and had not a coherent theology about God’s sovereignity and genuine freedom.
    I’m sure that Luther and Calvin (or Augustine for that matter) read many things into the texts which weren’t there.

    On philosophical grounds, I believe that everyone truly desiring God will spend the entire eternity with Him.
    Would you agree with this basic thought?

    Lovely greetings in Christ.
    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

  • KentonS

    The word “nuance” appears 6 times in this post. What does it say when nuance is the theme here? Generally when I try to give a nuanced argument it’s a case where I’ve been subconsciously swayed but I’m consciously resisting the change. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Preston Sprinkle is still processing the NPP and this book is part of his journey. A few years down the road and he’ll be on board with it.

  • D. Foster

    IMO, what complicates this issue is that we have imposed a distinction between “faith” and “works” the NT writers don’t recognize. The Greek word for “faith,” pistis, entails the concept of an active fidelity.

    Pistis is variously translated as “faith” or “faithfulness” in our English bibles where it really means both, not one or the other.

    Paul’s problem isn’t works, but the wrong kind of works. I believe his beef with what WE call “works-based righteousness” would be that such works arise out of a false theology that teaches our actions can coerce God into blessing us.

    At the same time, I think he would reject the distinction we make between “faith” and “works.” It would sound to him like we were asking the difference between the ideas of “running” and “moving really quickly with your legs.”

    –Derek

  • Steve

    I always found it pretty straightforward that “works of the law” was a reference to keeping the Law of Moses. So when Paul tells the Galatians they won’t be saved by the words of the law, he’s telling them they don’t have to keep kosher, attend the sabbath, be circumsized, and adhere to temple rituals of purity. Never seemed all that complex.

  • Gene R. Smillie

    Thanks, Scot, for this succinct but poignant resume of what Preston contributes to moving the NPP discussion forward. For someone perpetually falling behind on the ‘state of the question’, your post here is very helpful. My only caveat is that I’ve always had the (probably naïve) impression that Deuteronomic and Prophetic would not be paired as competing either/or ideologies, or even opposite ends of an ideological spectrum, because prophetic is derivative from deuteronomic. That is, the prophets’ principal criterion by which they measured Israel’s faithfulness was the degree to which behavior (particularly the nation’s leaders’ behavior & policies) reflected and conformed to the deuteronomic covenant. The interdependency of the two is so much the case that JEDP theorists reverse the ostensive order of composition in their narrative, positing that the covenant documents ‘discovered’ in Josiah’s time must have actually been composed in that same era by prophetic agents. Or at least that is how I understood their contentions.

  • BradK

    On your point 4, Scot, I agree. Paul often seems quite Deuteronomic as in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 when he gives a laundry list of specific behavior that prevents the inheritance of the kingdom. In 1 Corinthians 10, he makes a direct comparison between the new covenant and the old and specifically references behavior and consequences. Minimizing “Deuteronomism” in the Christian faith and maximizing it in (a perceived version of) Judaism is probably true.

    For me the new perspective (not that there is actually a single NPP) may not have it all right, but it makes far more sense than the old perspective, which seems simply and obviously wrong. There is no putting the genie back in the jar after Sanders’ work and that which followed it.

  • Preston

    tmarsh,

    Even more frustrating is when people assume something about a book that they haven’t actually read.

    I very much share your frustration about people reading modern categories back into the text, and my book is seeking NOT to do that. I also agree with you that Variegated Nomism (the “Conclusion” chapter, at least) and Piper’s refutation of Wright is doing the very thing that you claim.

    But if you read my book, you will see that my fundamental premise is to work with the ancient categories related to salvation that the ancients were working with (not the ones we work with).

    As far as divine and human agency in salvation, this discussion is as old as Ben Sirah, 4 Ezra, Paul (Rom 9), and Josephus who defined the 4 “philosophies” in terms of how they conceived the relationship between determination and free will.

    I really do hope you will read the book. I think you will be pleasantly surprised and what you thought I was going to say!

  • Norman

    I don’t think we can get away from Paul saying that we are no longer under the Mosaic system of justification as it was being practiced at his time. That model of no physical temple worship and it’s associated trappings finds its roots in the OT itself. It seems the letter of Hebrews covers this needed change pretty well from a Jewish perspective even.
    I think the gospels and Paul are the culmination of a centuries old battle between their various factions. that’s why Israel was considered dead throughout the OT and in need of a change.

  • Preston

    Gene,

    Thanks for weighing in! You give a very solid perspective here, one with which I agree. I actually don’t think the two systems (Deut/Proph) are competing necessarily, but complimentary; that is, the prophetic is a response to the failure of the deuteronomic. I try to unpack what I mean by this by looking at several passages in both Deut and Proph literature. A good example comes from Jer 32 where the prophet uses several deuteronomic themes and turns them on their head in order to forecast God’s future act of salvation. What I say about that passage is a good example of how I see these two different systems interacting.

    Hope that helps!

  • Preston

    Kenton,

    You’re cracking me up! Actually, my journey began by embracing the NPP and then moving away from it. I started interacting with the literature back in 2002, and this is my second academic book on the topic (along with several articles). Quite frankly, I’m pretty tired of reading stuff on this topic (am I allowed to say that?), so I don’t see myself shifting back any time soon!

    Ya, the word “nuance” means different things to different people. What I do in the book is actually a very mild critique of one aspect of the NPP. It’s not a wholesale refutation of “it” (whatever “it” is). So, I still see many valuable points made by NPP scholars. In many ways, I would line up with 90% of what Wright says about Paul.

    So by “nuance” I think Scot means “careful” or “specific” or something like that. There’s nothing in my book that makes sweeping critiques against the NPP. And every critique I give is based on (what I think is) thorough exegesis, not reading modern Reformed categories back into Paul.

  • Preston

    Ugggh…if my book is “Law/Gospel hermeneutics of Luther with new term” then I’m going to shoot myself right here in Starbucks. It’s gonna get messy.

    I wrote my book because I was sick of reading books like the one you describe!

  • Preston

    Thanks Don! Glad you found those posts helpful!

  • KentonS

    “In many ways, I would line up with 90% of what Wright says about Paul…There’s nothing in my book that makes sweeping critiques against the NPP. ”

    Wow, that was a lot quicker than I thought it would be! Kudos!
    ;)

  • Preston

    Scot,

    I really appreciate you taking the time to read my book, and for posting such a thoughtful response. Since we agree on so many issues (such as nonviolence), it’s expected that there will still be a few that we don’t totally agree on. I’ll pray for you :)

    Just to clarify a couple things for our readers:

    1. This book is not a wholesale refutation of the NPP, but simply an examination of one feature in the discussion: the relationship between divine and human agency in salvation. I actually would line up with much of Sanders’ evaluation of Judaism, and with about 90% of what Wright says about Paul (probably only 50% of what Dunn says, however). My very nuanced critique comes with the particular issue of divine and human agency. I see Paul stressing the former, while the DSS the latter.

    2. “But Sanders and the so-called “New Perspective on Paul” were challenged
    by some, most notably Reformed or Calvinistic thinkers and exegetes.”

    Oh man, I hope I don’t get placed in the camp of all the other “Reformed” critiques of the NPP! Honestly, Scot, did my book feel like those other critiques? I wrote my book because I was tired of the sloppiness of those critiques; namely, the way in which they critiqued the NPP based on modern categories and assumptions cherished by Neo-Calvinists.

    3. Regarding “salvation,” I agree with you! At least I think I do. Now, maybe I wasn’t that clear in the book, but I certainly believe that salvation (if that’s even the best term) is nationalistic in the OT and corporate in the NT (corporate doesn’t of course exclude the individual). In fact, I think I talk more about “covenant restoration” in my OT section rather than “salvation” in the modern sense. How will God give Israel the covenant blessings? Will He bless them if they repent and turn to the law (Deuternomic)? Or will He intervene unilaterally and bring them up from the grave without prior repentance (Prophetic)? I tried as hard as I could to work with the actually categories and language of the text, not the Reformation.

    Anyway, for those still reading, here’s a snippet from my intro where I discuss what I mean by “soteriology”:

    We will therefore use the term soteriology
    with the basic sense of the restoration
    God brings to those who belong to his covenant community. This definition
    squares with the theological contours of Qumran and Paul, who both believed
    that their communities were experiencing the restoration promised in the
    Scriptures. We can expand the meaning of restoration to include the previously
    mentioned “already” aspect, when God established his new covenant with the
    community, and a “not yet” future, when God would complete (though not
    terminate) their salvation. We can continue to fill out this definition by
    identifying several theological motifs that give shape to this restoration,
    which can all be identified as important for Qumran and Paul independently.
    These motifs are (1) the curse of the old covenant and how God will rescue his
    people from it. (2) The nature of the eschatological spirit’s work among the
    community. (3) The view of the human condition, which among both Paul and
    Qumran amounts to anthropological pessimism. (4) Justification—how the
    community members attain the status of righteous before a righteous God. And, (5)
    the relationship between future judgment and works, for those who are part of
    the covenant community.

  • Preston

    You’re killing me, Smalls!

  • scotmcknight

    It’s that word “failure” that leads inevitably to “competing”… eh?

  • scotmcknight

    Preston, not hoping to see a mess at Starbs, but I wonder how many in TGC or Reformed camps will see Luther and Calvin in those two Dtr and Prophetic angles? I suspect many will see Law vs. Gospel…

  • scotmcknight

    Preston, I’m waiting — either here or some later publication — to see you weigh in Jesus and this Dtr/Prophetic spectrum.

  • MarkBeuving

    As someone who has read Preston’s book, if this is the way it came across in McKnight’s review, then you got the wrong impression—that’s not a good description of the book, nor do I think that’s what Scot meant to communicate about it.

  • Preston

    Hmmmm…perhaps. “Competing” just feels more derogatory, or makes it sound like they are contradictory.

    If my 1992 Crown Victoria breaks down and I buy a brand new Jeep (a real dream of mine right now…), does that mean that the Jeep is competing with the Crown Vic? I’d just say that it replaced it because the former one failed.

    That’s a quick analogy; not sure if it works, but…

  • Preston

    Perhaps, but that would be their problem not mine. Fundamental to the method of my book (stated clearly in ch. 1) is that I DON’T use modern categories but ancient ones. If they overlap a bit, then fine. But the actual categories I discuss are ancient.

  • Preston

    Oh man, don’t hold your breath, Scot! I’ve got to figure out what the Bible says about homosexuality (my next book) first!

    For the time being, David Morlan (I think) has explored this to some extent and last time we talked, my view of Paul (in terms of Deut and proph) was very close to what he argued for Jesus (and Acts):

    http://www.amazon.com/Conversion-Luke-Paul-Theological-Exploration/dp/056720913X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1380217413&sr=8-2&keywords=david+morlan

    Also, I thought I remember talking to a PhD student in Scotland somewhere (Paul Larson? I forget) who was saying the same stuff about Matthew.

    So work is being done. If I’m still alive after my homosexuality book, maybe I’ll see if there still needs some work to be done.

  • RonSimkins

    Thanks Scot for bringing Sprinkle’s book to our (at least my) attention. Having not read it yet, I certainly won’t comment on what he says. Having read what you say, I can comment on that. Thank you for insisting that we need to learn to attempt to hold together strands of thought that we tend to insist on splitting apart. As you point out so well, the so-called Deuteronomic and Prophetic strands run all through both the Old Testament and the New Testament – often in the same paragraph. I appreciate you reminding us that we need to wrestle with this reality rather than force one half of the equation to be completely redefined by our preference for the other half. Most of the “big” truth paradigms in life are far too big to be handled by just one end of the dynamic tension they all raise. And, this certainly includes the Biblical truths.

  • tmarsh0307

    Dr. Sprinkle,
    I sincerely appreciate your response – thank you! And, I appreciate your sensitivity to the concerns I mentioned above, as well as a more thorough response to Scot’s critique. I hope that I have the opportunity to read your work soon.

  • Preston

    Thanks! I too cringe when I read most other critiques of the NPP! My only disagreement with (one aspect of) the NPP is on textual, historical, and exegetical grounds, and not theological grounds. I wouldn’t say that I fit squarely in a Neo-Reformed camp. How could I after writing a book defending nonviolence!
    http://www.amazon.com/Fight-A-Christian-Case-Non-Violence/dp/1434704920/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_pap?ie=UTF8&qid=1380219597&sr=8-1&keywords=preston+sprinkle+fight

  • http://www.wheretoreach.us/ T Freeman

    Preston,

    Tell me how you really feel!

    Since I’ve not read the book, I’ll approach my question from that angle. I hear you saying you are using ancient categories that may overlap with more modern ones. In your opinion, how much overlap is there b/n your D category and (i) Luther’s concept of “law” and/or (ii) typical evangelical teaching concerning conditional covenants? Similarly, how much overlap is there b/n your P category and (i) Luther’s concept of “gospel” and/or (ii) typical evangelical teaching concerning unconditional covenants?
    As an alternative question, Scot gave his definition of your two categories (D and P) in the post, how would you define them for folks who have not read the book? I’m having a hard time seeing much functional difference b/n these categories and Luther’s L/G categories.

  • Preston

    T Freeman,

    I’m honestly not that familiar with Luther’s Law/Gospel concept. Or at least, I’ve not read Luther on it so I can’t really say how close my concepts are to his.

    I would assume that there may be a good deal of overlap. Luther (for all his faults) was a good student of Scripture (from what I hear). So was Augustine, Calvin, and other theologians that we’re apparently not allowed to read when we seek to understand Paul. (Sorry…)

    The main difference is that I see my categories inherent in the text. As I show in the book, the biblical writers seem to be very aware of the question of the role of repentance in covenant restoration. So I think the biggest difference would be that Luther (I’m going to assume) constructed his Law/Gospel dichotomy as a way to answer the question about how an individual gets saved. But I contrast my Deut/Proph terms as a way to articulate the different ways in which God might restore his covenant to Israel.

    Put differently: I’m working within the categories of biblical theology, while Luther might be working within the categories of systematic theology.

    Does that help?

  • http://www.wheretoreach.us/ T Freeman

    Preston,

    Thanks for the reply. I hesitate to speak for Luther as well, but I see him also trying to use biblical categories that are inherent to the text, but starting with a different text, namely, Romans and (especially?) Galatians rather than OT texts. And, yes, it does look like there would be a lot of overlap b/n your D and Luther’s Law, and your P and Luther’s Gospel.

  • Jean

    Preston – Thank you for writing and blogging on contextually relevant topics, which are also full of controversy, in a very respectful tone.

  • Norman

    Well Preston I visited Amazon and begin reading some of your sections and I must say you tweaked my desire. I prefer the book version but I’m too impulsive to wait so I ordered the kindle version. Hope you make as much off that sale as the book :)

  • Andrew Dowling

    I’m pretty firmly aligned on the NPP camp on this (and clearly the Reformed thinkers screwed up Paul pretty bad). However, there are a few areas I think sometimes get overlooked in this discussion. Of course Scot won’t accept my presuppositions here but I think they are important:

    1) Authentic Pauline epistles vs deutero-Pauline: On the issue of “law and works” there is mostly overlap here, although I think works like Ephesians lend greater weight to the Reformed argument than the works actually written by Paul. In relation . .

    2) Paul’s expectation of parousia: I don’t think one can look at Paul’s “universalism” without also acknowledging that he anticipated the end of the world to occur within his lifetime. Was a major component of his “loosening of the Law” that ‘time was short’ and that the Resurrection of Jesus had initiated the last days? I don’t think his theology can be divorced as if he was writing without this anticipation.

    3) The historicity of Acts: I do think one flaw in some NPP texts are their over-reliance on Acts. I’m in (an admittedly minority) camp that believes Acts was very late and written in the early 2nd century (and that Marcion edited a proto-Luke and not the canonical Luke we have today . . his edits and the structure of Luke make much more sense in this framework). Given that, I think Luke the evangelist downplays theological divisions that existed within the early Church to make Peter sound more like Paul and Paul more like Peter. Given the language in some of the epistles, I think one can doubt the picture of Paul in Acts as a strictly observant Jew to the end.

    All that said, I think the NPP interpretation of what Paul meat by “works” is spot-on and that Judaism was not a “record your deeds by the day” religion highly accurate. The historical Reformed view of Paul is simply bad theology and bad historical study.

    As for Jesus, it’s clear as crystal his teaching was about “pure heart inside . . good works (as in how you treat others) outside” and that he called for a highly participatory (get off your butt) view of humans in relation with God. Since one can’t really twist the words of Jesus into exhorting anything resembling Reformed thinking, it’s why many conservatives actually say that Jesus preached all of that love they neighbor stuff to show that humans were incapable of being so righteous (culminating in the Crucifixion), and that he entrusted Paul to preach the “real Gospel” of sola fide.
    A clever argument, but absolutely ridiculous.

  • http://www.thepoorinspirit.com/ Alvin (ThePoorInSpirit)

    How does

    “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

    fit into the ideas of the “Deuteronomic” and the “Prophetic”?

  • Nathanael

    It’s always of interest to me how little knowledge of Luther, Calvin, Augustine, Jerome, etc. there is in the NPP debates (on both sides, really). Krister Stendahl’s essay is a particularly egregious example of the sort of historical misrepresentation that goes on but really, most of the folks in the debate are just as bad. I just hope that one of these days someone will come along who is interested in 2nd temple Judaism AND Christian exegetes born before 1800.


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