Saturday, May 13, 2006

James Dunn, A Retrospective Look at the New Perspective

The New Perspective on Paul
Collected Essays
Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament - WUNT 185
by James D. G. Dunn

Mohr Siebeck, 2005
xii + 539 pages, English
ISBN: 3161486773

James Dunn's new book contains a series of previously published essays about the New Perspective. It does, however, contain two new essays written just for this volume, the final one on Philippians 3 and the opening essay "The New Perspective: Whence, What, and Whither?". It is this opening 89 page essay that contains Dunn's reflections on the New Perspective and he offers some interesting remarks about the criticism that he and others have received. (Incidentally the book is dedicated to Tom Wright). On the whole it is a positive piece that attempts to bridge the gap from revisionist and reformed readings of Paul.

Dunn's essay stresses that the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) is not, in his opinion, antithetical to the Reformed tradition. He makes this statement at several junctures:

"For my own part, even though it is not the language of the Reformed tradition, I have no particular problem in affirming that the doctrine of justification (in its fully orbed expression) is articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae; I am astonished by and repudiate entirely the charge that the 'new perspective on Paul' constitutes an attack on and denial of that Lutheran fundamental ... There point I am trying to make is simply that there is another dimension (or other dimensions) of the biblical doctrine of God's justice and of Paul's teaching on justification which have been overlooked and neglected, and that it is important to recover these aspects and to think them through afresh in the changing circumstances of today's world." (pp. 21-22).

"This I say once again is what the 'new perspective' is all about for me. It does not set this understanding of justification by faith in antithesis to the justification of the individual by faith. It is not opposed to the classic Reformed doctrine of justification. It simply observed that a social and ethnic dimension was part of exposition and defence of the doctirne - 'Jew first but also Greek'. .. This is the lost theological dimension of the doctrine which needs to be brough afresh into the light, not to diminish the traditonal doctrine, but to enrich the doctrine from its biblical roots and to recover the wholeness of Paul's teaching on the subject." (p. 33).

"My hope is that the debate ocassioned by the new perspective can now move forward. If we can move beyond the confusions and misunderstandings, the false polarisations which are the meat and drink of polemic, and the debates over particular texts which will probably be never-ending, it should be possible to engage in a more fruitful discussion of the main issues which have emerged from quarter a century's reflection on Sanders' new perspective on Second Temple Judaism. In this way the debate may help to achieve a richer and fuller understanding of Paul's teaching on justification and on its implications for Christian living." (p. 54).

"Justfication by faith alone needs to be reasserted as strongly as ever it was by Paul or by Augustine or by Luther. To acknowledge dependence wholly on God the Creator and Redeemer, to glorify and worhsip him alone, to trust in him and give him thanks is the proper and only proper response of the creature before the Creator. But its full scope needs to be appreciated. For justification by faith speaks against all attempts to add anythingto the gopsel as essential to salvation or to require anythingadditional to the gospel as the basis for believers to eat and work together - not excluding particular definitions of apostolic succession, eucharistic exclusivisty, denial of women's ministry, assertions of biblical inerrancy, and such extras." (p. 87).

In fact Dunn's use of "scope" in this last paragraph is similar to Gathercole, Watson and O'Brien who distinguish the content of justification from the scope. I wonder if Dunn had said something like this in his 1983 BJRL article then maybe alot of the anguished debate over the NP might have fizzled before it began.

On Works of the Law Dunn writes:

"Let me make quite clear, then: I have no doubt that 'works of the law' refer to what the law requires, the conduct prescribed by the Torah; whatever the law requires to be done can be described as 'doing' the law, as a work of the law." (p. 22).

More recently several commentators have argued that Judaism held a synergistic view of salvation (e.g. Talbert, Eskola, Moo, Thielman). Dunn objects because of the faithfulness/obedience motif in the NT, esp. Paul, renders Christianity as equally synergistic as Judaism (see Kent Yinger for much of the same). He says:

"So, if it is indeed fair to characterize Jewish soteriology as synergistic, should we not in fairness read the exhortations in passges like Rom. 12.9-21, Gal. 6.1-5, and Col. 3.5-4.1 in a similar way?" (p. 71).

"'Justification' and the gift of the Spirit might well mark the beginning of the process most effective, just as final justification and resurrection by the power of the Spirit might well mark the end of the process most effectively. But it is the transformation of the justified sinner by teh power of the indwelling Spirit to become more and more like Christ, like Christ in his dying as well as his rising again, which best characterizes the ongoing process of salvation." (p. 86).

For Dunn the differences lies in Jesus Christ (p. 80). In which case the problem with the Law is that it is not Christ.

About this essay:

1. The tone is conciliatroy and defensive, and it is apparent that Dunn is trying to show that NP is not the greatest enemy of the Reformation since Pope Pius IX.
2. Dunn qualifies his views alot more (esp. on works of the law, admits to works-righteousness being contained in Rom. 4.4-5, and the limited value of covenantal nomism).
3. He maintains the basic framework he has always advocated: covenantal nomism, Judaism was not legalistic, works of the law connotes the Jewish lifestyle, Paul attacks Jewish exclusivism, "life" in Galatians 3.12 is life in the covenant, etc.

This is an important essay for anyone to read who is engaged in researching or reading about the NPP debate.


exegetical fallacy said...

Thanks Mike. To confirm, the Phil 3 article (the only new exegetical one in the book) is a wonderful read and gives a balance between an Old and New Perspective, with a wonderful portrayal - almost devotional - of our union with Christ.

On the other hand, I wonder if Dunn is constantly missunderstood simply because he has often overstated his more sociolocial emhases in earlier articles. I mean, if you read his earlier statements on 'works of the law' compared with his more recent ones in this book, you might find a bit of a gap. what do you think, Mike?


NWMihelis said...

Thanks for the heads up. One more to add to the summer reading list!

Luther's Stein said...

I agree with your statement concerning a gap in the rhetoric concerning "works of the law." Though I wonder if it may be less of a misunderstanding and more of a correction. I have not read the new article, but given the sampling Mike has given us, it sounds like there have been a few substantive changes in his view (i.e. Rom. 4; works of the law).

As I have said, i have not read the article; do you know if he has evidenced any changes regarding his understanding of righteousness language?

exegetical fallacy said...

So here's what I'm talking about:

" 'Works of the Law' must refer to the attitude attacked in chap.2; it must denote the 'works' referred to there, particularly circumcision....that is, those actions which marked out those involved as the poeple of the law, those acts prescribed by the law by which a member of the covenant people identified himself as a Jew and maintained his status within the covenant...'works of the law' are NOT the same as DOING the law (2:13-14)" (Dunn, Romans, 158, emphasis his) - keep in mind, however, that this last statement has a specific text in mind.


"...I have no doubt that 'works of the law' refer to what the law requires, the conduct prescribed by the torah; whatever the law requires to be done can be described as 'doing' the law, as a work of the law" (Dunn, New Perspective, 22-23)

"In short, I do not want to narrow 'works of the law' to boundary issues" (Dunn, New Perspective, 25)

Now Dunn does retract a bit in the overall discussion in these latter pages, which I find quite admirable (he admits that Schreiner and Cranfield have made some judicious critiques of his view, to some extent). Nevertheless, you can see why he has been - as he calls it - 'misunderstood' on some of these issues.


J. B. Hood said...

Thanks Mike, that's interesting stuff. Based on, though, I'm going to recommend they use paper instead of titanium and ink instead of gold the next time they publish this sucker. Maybe that would get the price below two bills...

I can understand that price with some scholars, but come on, Dunn could sell (and make them money) for much, much less.

Shane Becker said...

Thanks Mike,
A helpful item. Find myself having to look into the new perspective as it seems to be coming up a lot more in my theological discussion circles. (Apart from the New Covenant I'm not into much 'new' stuff!).

". . .the problem with the Law is that it is not Christ" - well said.