Monday, April 23, 2007

The New Perspective on Paul

In summary: (a) It builds on Sanders' new perspective on Second Temple Judaism, and Sanders' reassertion of the basic graciousness expressed in Judaism's understanding and practice of covenantal nomism. (b) It observes that a social function of the law was an integral aspect of Israel's covenantal nomism, where separateness to God (holiness) was understood to require separateness from the (other) nations as two sides of the one coin, and that the law was understood as the means to maintaining both. (c) It notes that Paul's own teaching on justification focuses largely if not principally on the need to over-come the barrier which the law was seen to interpose between Jew and Gentile,so that the 'all' of 'to all who believe' (Rom. 1.17) signifies in the first place, Gentile as well as Jew. (d) It suggests that 'works of law' became a key slogan in Paul's exposition of his justification gospel because so many of Paul's fellow Jewish believers were insisting on certain works as indispensable to their own(and others?) standing within the covenant, and therefore as indispensable to salvation. (e) It protests that failure to recognize this major dimension of Paul's doctrine of justification by faith may have ignored or excluded a vital factor in combating the nationalism and racialism which has so distorted and diminished Christianity past and present.

- James D. G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul: Collected Essays. WUNT 185, Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005, 15.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ecclesiastes says there is "nothing NEW under the sun." That is why I am bothered by the New Perspective on Paul. Can we really believe the church got it wrong for nearly 2000 years? I believe justification by faith alone means justification by faith alone. Period.

Joe from Idaho

metalepsis said...

Hey Joe from Idaho,

Well there may be a little problem with your logic here….

First let me state that many who have been convinced of various elements concerning the New Perspective on Paul still believe in ‘justification by faith,’ they are just honestly grappling with what they think the text means, they are doing honest exegesis and even coming up with a fuller view of what Paul meant by using the word ‘justification’. Now to your logic:

(a) There is not a serious scholar who would not admit that Second Temple Judaism was seriously caricaturized before Sanders’ work (obviously I am not being completely precise here, there were a few precursors to Sanders’ view but none of them made the splash that Sanders’ work did). Even the most ardent critics of the NPP would admit there is no going back to the ‘old’ view of Judaism, even if they disagree with Sanders’ own ‘covenantal nomism’. So in essence this is a new understanding, in fact in history there are always new understandings, as new theories are weighed and tested, as well as when new artifacts are discovered.
(b) Your ‘nothing NEW under the sun’ logic might need to be nuanced a bit. Wasn’t the apocalyptic in breaking of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ something NEW to those who experienced it in the First Century? Wasn’t Luther’s own understanding of the gospel something NEW in his own time period (it certainly caused a stir)? The NPP is not claiming to be NEW as in it is created ex nihilo, it is simply a new understanding of a corpus of First Century texts. So if you are scared of the adjective ‘New’ in the NPP, don’t be, it is meaningless, in fact the term was coined in 1982!

I am assuming you are a protestant, what if I used your argument to support Papal infallibility? Yes the church can get things wrong; it is in fact made up of people is it not!

But seriously you really should not be scared of the NPP.

Cheers,

dan said...

Hey, there's nothing "new" about the NPP, we're just starting to understand what Paul and his orginal readers knew all along. Maybe it should be called the "true" perspective on Paul... ;)

Bryan,

Do you own Dunn's latest collection? I was going to pick it up until I saw the price tag. Yikes!

Grace and peace,

metalepsis said...

Dan,

Nope I don't own it, I didn't want to sell my first born for it, so I picked it up through Inter Library Loan, and !gasp! photocopied the first chapter, which was the chapter I was interested in.

peace!

Anonymous said...

Dan,

Why is it that the "we" who are just starting to understand what Paul meant is made up of mostly liberal theologians? Can you name one Biblical conservative that has embraced the New Perspective? N.T. Wright does not count. His writings are anything but conservative that fall in line with historical and orthodox Christianity.

I am not trying to pick a fight here. Just trying to understand. Right now, I am not understanding.

Joe from Idaho

metalepsis said...

Idaho Joe,

When you put terms together like liberal, conservative and orthodoxy without explaining what you mean, it is not really helpful. Again you seem to be showing signs of some fallacious logic. What if Dan could name 35 “Biblical conservatives” who embrace the NPP, would you be more likely to agree with it then. What if the texts exegeted really do support some of the principles of the NPP. If you are interested in the subject why not read some good first and secondary sources on the subject and make up your own mind. And I would heartily disagree with your understanding of Wright, if Wright is not conservative in his leanings then the term has no meaning, and if Wright is not Orthodox then what does Orthodoxy mean….I am truly perplexed…

Cheers,