Friday, June 24, 2005

Musings on the New Perspective on Paul

1. Was Judaism Legalistic?

No. I think Sanders has destroyed the caricature of Judaism as an external religion of ritual or one characterized by ethical rigorism. However, studies by Gathercole, Eskola, Carson et. al, and Hamilton have shown that for some Jews Law observance could serve as both a community marker and also the basis for vindication at the eschaton. I think that within second-temple Judaism there were diverse approaches to the Law regarding its social and soteriological application.

2. Is Paul confronting legalism or ethnocentrism?

In my mind – both. The biggest issue that Paul encountered in Galatians and Romans was not resisting legalism, but trying to get Gentile Christians accepted as Gentiles by Jewish Christians into fellowship as equals. However, I feel that in passages like Rom. 4.4-5 and Phil. 3.7-9 (cf. Acts 15.1-5) that Paul does negate the possibility that divine vindication is achieved on the basis of expressing one’s Jewishness through performance of the Law. Paul’s criticism of the Law can be for either ethnocentric or nomistic reasons.

3. Is justification about covenant membership?

No . . . But!

No. I don’t think justification can be reduced to covenant membership because:

(a) From a lexical standpoint the dik- word group doesn’t mean covenant membership. You won’t find any such connotation in BDAG, LSJ or MM.
(b) I think the NPP confuses the context of Paul’s arguments about justification (Jew and Gentile relationships) with its content.
(c) Justification is fundamentally a vertical category esp. in Romans 5 and James 2.
(d) Against Wright in particular I would say:
i. He gives the impression of reducing justification to an analytic judgment based on regeneration.
ii. He runs the risk of subsuming sanctification under justification. Especially when he says that the final verdict is made ‘on the basis of an entire life’. Makes me edgy depending on what he means (works; perseverance, faithfulness?).
iii. The problem with Wright is pinning him down. His article on ‘justification’ in New Bible Dictionary is fine by me. However, I detect a change in Climax of the Covenant and What Saint Paul Really Said that really reduces justification to an ecclesiological doctrine. Then again, his recent works on “The Shape of Justification” in Bible Review, “Justification and New Perspectives” from the Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference, and his “Romans” commentary in NIB, strike me as reaching a defensible balance between the forensic and covenantal dimensions of justification.

But. Dunn and Wright are in the right zone!

(a) Paul is not attacking an abstract and atemporal merit theology. Paul is not trying to answer the question: “What must I do to be saved?” Instead, I think the fundamental issue with him and Judaism is: “Who are the people of God and in what economy will they be vindicated by God?” [Wright sometimes thinks justification is only about the first half of this question].
(b) Justification is covenantal insofar as it is the nexus through which we enter the messianic cosmopolitan community.
(c) As I argue in my forthcoming TynBul piece: in justification God creates a new people, with a new status, in a new covenant, as a foretaste of the new age.
(d) Wright and Dunn do not appear to be semi-pelagian legalists. They emphasize the necessity of divine grace (not in a synergistic sense) and the sense of assurance believers can have facing the final judgment. Neither of them are Tridentine: “If any man say he be justified apart from works of charity let him be anathema.”
(e) Justification means the end of all boasting – personal and national.
(f) I would identify myself with other scholars who are unconvinced, yet highly sympathetic to the NPP (e.g. Tom Holland, Frank Thielman, Tim Chester).

Stuff I’ve written or got coming out includes:

“Incorporated Righteousness: A Response to Recent Evangelical Discussion Concerning the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness in Justification.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47.2 (2004): 253-75.
“When the Dust Finally Settles: Reaching a Post-New Perspective Perspective.” Criswell Theological Review (Spring 2005).
“Justification as Forensic Declaration and Covenant Inclusion: A Via Media Between Revisionist and Reformed Readings of Paul.” Tyndale Bulletin (2005/6)
“The New Perspective on Paul: An Annotated Bibliography.” On-line article published at The Paul Page: Dedicated to the New Perspective on Paul. Webmaster Mark M. Mattison.


Sean du Toit said...

Have you read ?

It seems to lay out Wright's position in helpful way.

Scot McKnight said...

Can you tell us the title of that article? The link shows up incompletely.

Sean du Toit said...

Justification: The Biblical Basis and its Relevance for Contemporary Evangelicalism. It's from "The Great Acquittal: Justification by Faith and Current Christian Thought", Ed. Gavin Reid, London:
Collins, 1980, p.13ff.

Add to this Wright_Justification_Biblical_Basis.pdf

hope that helps

Jim Hamilton said...
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