Saturday, August 06, 2005

Paul and Judaism

The question has been raised by Bryan Lee at Metalepsis , ‘If Paul was not deriding the Judaic people for being legalists, then what was Paul on about?’

Good question. One that many minds greater than mine have wrestled with. Well, I don’t think Paul is attacking something we might call straight out legalism (although I do think that there were forms of merit theology in some strands of second-temple Judaism). At the same time I don’t think Paul is attacking merely Jewish exclusivism emanating from covenantal nomism (although nationalism was indeed an issue). I think he confronts elements of both themes.

I surmize that what Paul attacks is the view that one must do-Judaism in order to join the people of God and thus be justified at the eschaton. It may be that Paul is not confronting ‘legalism’ or ‘covenantal nomism’ but an ethnocentric nomism.

Defined, ethnocentric nomism is the view that Jewish identity is the locus of salvation (hence ethnocentric) and one must perform the law so as to enter the Jewish constituency and be vindicated at the eschaton (hence nomistic). This differs from legalism in that the works performed are part of a covenantal framework that defines the identity of God’s people and includes God’s gracious provision to atone for sin. Ethnocentric nomism differs from covenantal nomism in that the desired end-state is eschatological salvation and not merely covenant status. Unfortunately commentators frequently only tell half of the story concerning the nationalistic and nomistic elements of what Paul confronts as is evident from a juxtaposition of Sanders and Martyn:

The argument [Paul’s] is that one need not be Jewish to be ‘righteous’ and is thus against the standard Jewish view that accepting and living by the law is a sign and condition of favored status (E. P. Sanders, Paul, the Law and the Jewish People [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1983] 46).

To compel the Gentile members to observe even a part of the Law was to imply that the Law, rather than Christ’s atoning death, was God’s appointed means of salvation for the whole of humanity (J. Louis Martyn, Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [AB; New York: Doubleday, 1997] 245).

Martyn is correct that a legal prescription for gentiles to take on the law (whole or part) is to denigrate the sufficiency of Christ’s death, but such observance will mean becoming effectively Jewish. Sanders is correct to correlate ‘Jewish’ with ‘righteous’ but he fails to reckon with the unstated instrument of law observance as the means to righteousness/Jewishness and he omits altogether the end state of such observance as being eschatological salvation (not just covenant status). Hence Paul repudiates the attempt to fuse together an ethnocentric ecclesiology with a nomistic approach to the law. The faith that justifies gentiles also constitutes the proof that they are members of the people of God.

For those interested this is based on my forthcoming piece in Tyndale Bulletin.

I also recommend the sober discussion on the meaning and use of the term ‘legalism’ for studying Paul in Scot McKnight’s Galatians commentary (p. 23) in the NIVAC series.


Scot McKnight said...

Before Jimmy Dunn was talking about the New Perspective, and just after Sander's magnum opus, he was talking about "nationalistic righteousness." Sounds like "ethnocentric nomism."

Watson's piece is impressive, isn't it.

The singular issue for those of us with NPP leanings is Paul's emphasis on "poiew."

eddie said...

I would agree with 'ethnocentric nomism'. Many commentators seem to confuse or only consider either covenant membership and eschatological salvation. Although, i have to say that they held together quite tightly. It is those who are being and doing thus... that will be saved at the last, and be shown to be the true and faithful people of God.