A friend who, knowing that I’m still trying to get my head round ‘the New Perspective on Paul’ and is also doing the same, recently asked me how the ‘New Perspective’ had changed my own perspective on the Christian life.
I answered by saying that I’m neither ready to dismiss the NPP out of hand, nor adopt any particular version of it. So it hasn’t changed the basic shape of my Christian faith. But it has asked questions about various aspects of ‘traditional’ evangelical thinking and practices, and sent me back to the Bible ‘to see if these things are so’.…
A foundational assumption of those who adopt some version of the ‘New Perspective on Paul’ is that Second-Temple Judaism was a not a religion of works-righteousness, but of grace. ‘Works’ were not seen as the way of meriting salvation, as has often been thought, but rather were the ‘boundary-markers’ of God’s people; the things that marked them out as belonging to him.
I have long viewed this with some suspicion. There seem to be too many instances in the Gospels when people did seek to justify themselves before God. …
Before we embarked on a preaching series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans in our church, I was asked to provide a summary of some of the main interpretative issues. Most (but not all) of these are related to the so-called ‘New Perspective on Paul’.
1. Reformation spectacles (Rom 1:17)
Have we distorted the message of Paul by reading it through ‘reformation spectacles’?
2. 1st-century Judaism (Rom 2:17ff; see also Lk 11:37ff)
Was the Judaism of Paul’s (and Jesus’) day essentially a religion of merit, or of grace?
To talk of a ‘New Perspective on Paul’ (NPP) is to imply that there is an ‘Old Perspective’ that has now come under scrutiny.
It might be tempting to respond by saying, “A curse on both your houses! I shall ignore them both and simply read and preach the text itself.”
An honourable aim, indeed, but one that would be unwise to attempt, and impossible to achieve.
Unwise to attempt, because we would then be elevating what we think the Holy Spirit is telling us about what God’s word means, above what others, possibly more insightful than us, think he has told them.…
It is interesting to note that the New Perspective on Paul has flourished in the wake of the Holocaust and the onset of the ecumenical movement, and the development of closer ties between Roman Catholics and Protestants.
The link here is that the ‘old’ (Protestant, and especially Lutheran) perspective on Paul taught that both Judaism and Roman Catholicism were (and are) beset by legalism, and that Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone was needed to counter-act this.…
Kruse says that Paul speaks of five aspects of God’s righteousness in Roman. These are all aspects of the same umbrella idea: ‘God acting in accordance with his own nature for the sake of his name’:-
God’s distributive justice. This is implied in Rom 1:18-2:11, where Paul says that God deals with all people in accordance with his revelation, on the one hand, and in accordance with their works, on the other hand. See also Rom 3:1-20
Recent re-thinking about the doctrine of justification throws up a related question about the final judgment:-
Are we warranted to say that we are justified by faith, but are judged by works? The very idea seems to undermine the grace of God and to take away with one hand what has so freely been given with the other.
N.T. Wright on ‘Justification by Works’
‘Here [in Rom 2:1-16] is the first statement about justification in Romans, and lo and behold it affirms justification according to works!…
Leaving aside for a moment my reading on this subject, I would like just to jot down here some of the questions and challenges posed by the New Perspective on Paul, especially in the version developed by Bishop N.T. (Tom) Wright.
Jesus and Paul. Have we distorted the gospel by privileging the teaching of Paul above that of Jesus?
‘Reformation spectacles’. Do we tend to read Paul too much in the light of debates and doctrines formulated at the time of the Reformation, and too little in the light of 1st-century setting in which Paul (and Jesus himself, of course) lived and taught?
We’re about to embark on a series of sermons on Romans at my church.
For those who are interested in beginning to get to grips with a ‘New Perspective’ view of Romans, then I would warmly recommend N.T. (Tom) Wright’s series of three lectures that provide a rapid survey and a summary of preaching suggestions. These were given in 2003, soon after the publication of his commentary on Romans in the New Interpreter’s Bible series, and they helpfully draw on that commentary.…