Monday, December 31, 2007

The New Perspective on Paul (ca. 1976-2006)

I am going to make the announcement that we are now formally living in the post-New Perspective era of Pauline studies. For me the boundary markers in this era are:

1. The publication of Krister Stendahl's Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (1976).
2. Robert Jewett's Romans in the Hermeneia series (2006).

Stendahl's collection of essays got people thinking beyond the compendium of Christian doctrine view of Romans and posited salvation-history (= Jew and Gentile relations) as the ovearching purpose of the letter. This of course paved the way for Sanders' contribution that Judaism was not legalistic who in turn paved the way for Dunn and Wright to argue that the problem was principally nationalism, and they in turn gave over to works by Gager and Stowers and others who in some senses radicalized the issues even further.
Jewett's commentary is a fine piece of work and is the standard for Romans commentaries that follow (I have been told that he received the contract for the volume in 1972!). Jewett's commentary is brilliant for its attention to historical detail, background, socio-cultural factors of honour/shame, and even paying attention to demographics and architecture in ancient Rome. Nonetheless, Jewett still thinks of Romans as concerned with the "transforming gospel about God's righteousness" (p. 2) geared towards garnering support for Paul's mission to the Barbarians of Spain and in hope of healing fractured relations among the Roman Christians themselves. He rightly thinks of 15.7-13 as providing a "coda" for the entire letter (p. 887). Jewett thus makes Jew-Gentile issues central to the content of the letter, but at several points he deliberately departs from "New Perspective" readings. For example, on Romans 4.1-5 Jewett writes: "Yet the antithesis between Paul's view of Abraham and that of Jewish religionists in his period cited above is sharply delineated by the wording of 4:2, and it fails to do justice to the explicit references to boasting and justification by works by substituting a politically correct emphasis on God's mercy ... the preceding sections of Paul's argument show that all human beings have fallen short in the glory required for boasting and that a new basis for righteousness has been created through Christ, so that boasting in any human accomplishment has been excluded by divine action" (p. 310).
I think Jewett's commentary is a sign that we are now living in a post-New Perspective era where the best insights from the NPP have been taken on board by the majority of scholars and some of its less compelling features have been rejected. Several scholars like Brendan Byrne, A. Andrew Das, and myself have been saying similar things for the last few years, I think we are now formally "Beyond" (not necessarily "against" or "more deeper" into") the New Perspective.


Anonymous said...

Jewett's commentary on Romans is worth reading. I read a bit of it. (He refers to God as "she" :)
It is a brilliant piece of work.

J. Matthew Barnes said...

I apparently need to pick up Jewett's commentary.

Thanks for the post!

A. B. Caneday said...


I think that you are correct that we are now in the post-New Perspective era of Pauline studies. I have had the same sense for some time, for whatever it is worth. My disappointment, however, is that I fear that lack of clarity on many issues persists, particularly on the theological import of crucial phrases and expressions, such as, δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ, ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, and διὰ/ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ. I was hoping for more from Jewett's commentary concerning these expressions. Excessive claims on both sides concerning these have marred discussions and have often muddied the waters.

These, among several other factors, leave me less than satisfied that the end of the New Perspective era moved us significantly closer to a more accurate accounting of Paul's theology concerning the law and Christ. I hope and pray that the discussion will continue and that it will be productive to shape and influence scholars on all sides who dismiss too easily arguments and evidence that does not fit current ideas we hold, especially for the sake of the church.

Alex said...

I still never can see how Wright adds anything to the conversation besides popularizing it. It seems to me like Stendhal pretty much gave us the overall structure while Sanders provided the overall support and filled in the details.