The Continuing Triumph of the “Mediating” Perspective on Paul

The Continuing Triumph of the “Mediating” Perspective on Paul March 20, 2014

In a recent issue of JETS 56.4 (2013), Jackson Wu has a good little article on, “Paul Writes to the Greek First and Also to the Jew: The Missiological Significance of Understanding Paul’s Purpose in Romans,” (pp. 765-79). For me this article is proof that in some circles the both-and of the “old” and “new” perspectives on Paul is prevailing. Interestingly Wu draws on his own experience as an ethnic Chinese in the course of his article and how that shapes ideas of ethnicity and gospel. I like what he writes about Romans:

Finally, the interpretation put forth in this article in consistent with recent insights and emphases within biblical scholarship. For a few decades, biblical scholars have debated the ‘New Perspective of Paul’ (NPP). One of these issues discussed is whether Paul’s doctrine of justification primarily combats legalism (i.e. works-righteousness) or ethnocentrism (i.e. one must become Jewish to be accepted as God’s people). Framed another way, scholars try  to locate where Paul ‘s emphasis lay on a spectrum between soteriological and ecclesiology. Even if some rejected the NPP emphasis on ethnicity, one can acknowledge that a key contribution of the NPP debate has been to highlight afresh the importance of ethnicity in Paul’s thinking, especially in Romans and Galatians. In view of such insights, the interpretation of Paul’s “Greek” language becomes more critical. One might suppose that the main idea of Romans is to explain salvation; however, it may be that how a person gets saved is simply an important implication of Paul’s more central point. Perhaps, Paul’s commetns on salvation and church serve a more basic missiological purpose in Romans. Paul challenges all-group centrism; that is, just as some Jews were wrong to boast over Gentiles, the Romans likewise have no ground to exalt themselves over the so-called ‘barbarians.’

What is interesting, is that many NPP critics have been willing to concede that a horizontal dimension of group-unity might be an implication of justification, whereas Wu is suggesting the reverse, namely, Paul’s justification language is an implication of writing about group-unity. Wu goes on to note that the soteric message of the gospel that its missiological impetus is based God’s work for us and God’s work in promoting his own mission, so he’s not collapsing the whole thing into a sociological model.

This confirms what I’m long suspected: Romans is not treatise or tract, but missional theology!

Also, I came across this quote from Mark Garcia in his review of Justification: Five Views, in the latest issue of SBET, which I really liked:

Furthermore, we have been reminded of the importance of the social implications of justification in the New Testament, and despite some over-ambitious and misguided uses of this reminder, it remains important not to lose sight of it. The social and theological Jew-Gentile challenge of the first century may not have been the sum-total of the justification question as Paul addressed it, but it was the principal historical context for his working that question out. Neither is this observation the invention of New Perspective writers; the history of Pauline exegesisbears out that we may have indeed lost sight of something only recently reemphasized.

Well said by Mark!

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