Key sayings and comments about the New Perspectives on Paul
“There does appear to be in Rabbinic Judaism a coherent and all-pervasive view of what constitutes the essence of Jewish religion and of how that religion ‘works’, and we shall occasionally, for the sake of convenience, call this view ‘soteriology’. The all-pervasive view can be summarized in the phrase ‘covenantal nomism’. Briefly put, covenantal nomism is the view that one’s place in God’s plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement for transgression.” Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 75.
“Otherwise, however, in all the literature surveyed, obedience maintains one’s position in the covenant, but it does not earn God’s grace as such. It simply keeps an individual in the group which is the recipient of God’s grace.” Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 420.
“The common pattern of religion: covenantal nomism
The distinction of IV Ezra helps point up the degree which the type of religion best called ‘covenantal nomism’ is common to Judaism as it appears in the literature considered here. The ‘pattern’ or ‘structure’ of covenantal nomism is this: (1) God has chosen Israel and (2) given the law. The law implies both (3) God’s promise to maintain the election and (4) the requirement to obey. (5) God rewards obedience and punishes transgression. (6) The law provides for means of atonement, and atonement results in (7) maintenance or reestablishment of the covenantal relationship. (8) All those who are maintained in the covenant by obedience, atonement and God’s mercy belong to the group which will be saved. An important interpretation of the first and last points is that election and ultimately salvation are considered to be by God’s mercy rather than human achievement.” Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 422.
“In section 5 of Chapter V, we drew one of the major conclusions of the study: Paul’s ‘pattern of religion’ cannot be described as ‘covenantal nomism’, and therefore Paul presents an essentially different type of righteousness from any found in Palestinian Jewish literature.” “There are two aspects of the relationship between grace and works: salvation is by grace, while judgment is according to works; works are condition of remaining ‘in’, but they do not earn salvation.” Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 543.【馮蔭坤的翻譯：「得救是憑恩典，但審判是按行為；行為是繼續留在(約或立約群體之)『內』的條件，但行為並不賺取救恩。」《羅馬書註釋》，上冊，頁86。】
“Here, however, there is a major shift; for to be righteous in Jewish literature means to obey the Torah and to repent of transgression, but in Paul it means to be saved by Christ. Most succinctly, righteousness in Judaism is a term which implies the maintenance of status among the group of the elect; in Paul it is a transfer term. In Judaism, that is, commitment to the covenant puts one ‘in’, while obedience (righteousness) subsequently keeps one in. In Paul’s usage, ‘be made righteous’ (‘be justified’) is a term indicating getting in, not staying in the body of the saved. Thus when Paul says that one cannot be made righteous by works of law, he means that one cannot, by works of law, ‘transfer to the body of the saved’.” Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 544.
Paul’s view in Sanders’ eyes: “The law is good, even doing the law is good, but salvation is only by Christ; therefore the entire system represented by the law is worthless for salvation. It is the change of ‘entire systems’ which makes it unnecessary for him to speak about repentance or the grace of God shown in the giving of the covenant.... Paul was not trying accurately to represent Judaism on its own terms, nor need we suppose that he was ignorant on essential points. He simply saw the old dispensation as worthless in comparison with the new.” 550-551 “Paul in fact explicitly denies that the Jewish covenant can be effective for salvation, thus consciously denying the basis of Judaism....More important, the covenantal promises to Abraham do not apply to his descendants, but to Christians.” 551 “It is thus not first of all against the means of being properly religious which are appropriate to Judaism that Paul polemicizes (‘by works of law’), but against the prior fundamentals of Judaism: the election, the covenant and the law; and it is because these are wrong that the means appropriate to ‘righteousness according to the law’ (Torah observance and repentance) are held to be wrong or are not mentioned. In short, this is what Paul finds wrong in Judaism: it is not Christianity.” 552 【馮蔭坤的翻譯：『簡言之，保羅認為猶太教就是錯在這裡：它不是基督教。』《羅馬書註釋》，上冊，頁87。】
E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 75, 420, 544, 550-552.
“Yet much in the New Perspective may be questioned. Many scholars fault Sanders’s selection of data, restricting his sources to Palestinian writers, but omitting Josephus. It is problematic that he distinguishes Palestinian from Hellenistic writers. This is a problem partially solved in Justification and Variegated Nomism, a major critique of Sanders’s thesis. A first-century writer who calls into question Sanders’s concept of covenantal nomism is Philo. Omitting Philo made Sanders’s thesis seem more reasonable.” P. 66
The two most important critiques of the New Perspective on Paul are Justification and Variegated Nomism, edited by Carson, Seifrid, and O’Brien, and Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics, by Westerholm.
James E. Allman, “Gaining Perspective on the New Perspective on Paul,” Bibliotheca Sacra 170 (January-March 2013): 51-68
The New Perspective on Paul （By James D.G. Dunn） (internet version)(The Manson Memorial Lecture delivered in the University of Manchester on 4 November 1982.)
Sanders’ basic claim is not so much that Paul has been misunderstood as that the picture of Judaism drawn from Paul’s writings is historically false, not simply inaccurate in part but fundamentally mistaken.
Whereas Paul seems to depict Judaism as coldly and calculatingly legalistic, a system of ‘works’ righteousness, where salvation is earned by the merit of good works. Looked at from another angle, the problem is the way in which Paul has been understood as the great exponent of the central Reformation doctrine of justification by faith.
THE APOSTLE PAUL AND THE INTROSPECTIVE CONSCIENCE OF THE WEST (KRISTER STENDAHL) pdf
It is the more acute since it is exactly at this point that Western interpreters have found the common denominator between Paul and the experiences of man, since Paul's statements about "justification by faith" have been hailed as the answer to the problem which faces the ruthlessly honest man in his practice of introspection. Especially in Protestant Christianity - which, however, at this point has its roots in Augustine and in the piety of the Middle Ages - the Pauline awareness of sin has been interpreted in the light of Luther's struggle with his conscience. But it is exactly at that point that
we can discern the most drastic difference between Luther and Paul, between the 16th and the 1st century, and, perhaps, between Eastern and Western Christianity.
A fresh look at the Pauline writings themselves shows that Paul was equipped with what in our eyes must be called a rather "robust" conscience. In Phil. 3 Paul speaks most fully about his life before his Christian calling, and there is no indication that he had had any difficulty in fulfilling the Law.
KRISTER STENDAHL, “THE APOSTLE PAUL AND THE INTROSPECTIVE CONSCIENCE OF THE WEST,” The Harvard Theological Review 56/3 (1963), 200.
The Shape of Justification (N.T. Wright, Bible Review, April 2001)
By “the gospel” Paul does not mean “justification by faith.” He means the announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus is Lord. To believe this message—to give believing allegiance to Jesus as Messiah and Lord—is to be justified in the present by faith (whether or not one has even heard of justification by faith). Justification by faith is a second-order doctrine: To believe it is both to have assurance (believing that one will be vindicated on the last day [Romans 5:1-5]) and to know that one belongs in the single family of God, called to share table fellowship with all other believers without distinction (Galatians 2:11-21). But one is not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith, but by believing in Jesus.
Justification is thus the declaration of God, the just judge, that someone has had their sins forgiven and that they are a member of the covenant family, the family of Abraham. That is what the word means in Paul’s writings. It doesn’t describe how people get into God’s forgiven family; it declares that they are in. That may seem a small distinction, but it is vital.
Paul and Judaism: The Jewish Matrix of Early Christianity: Issues in the Current Debate (DONALD A. HAGNER)pdf
Earlier Jewish scholars were ready to allow the very strong emphasis on works among the rabbis. Schechter cites the famous paradox attributed to R. Akiba (Aboth 3.20): "The world is judged by grace, and yet all is according to the amount of work." Israel Abrahams refers to the Jewish doctrine as "something like the synergism of Erasmus, which as his opponents saw was radically opposed to the Pauline theory of grace." After citing the same logion of Akiba, he adds that "the antinomy [of grace and works] is the ultimate doctrine of Pharisaism." Even if we allow that the emphasis on works has to do with "staying in" rather than "getting in," as Sanders maintains, we may still be confronted with a decided preoccupation with works, a preoccupation which by its very nature makes for human insecurity and thus prepares a promising ground for the nurture of legalistic tendencies…. Since the rabbis can also speak of grace, however, and since a religion should always be judged by its best representatives, is it not fair to admit that Judaism is a religion of grace and not one where God's favor is earned through righteous works? My answer to this is "Yes, at least at the theoretical level." In its best theology, Judaism is a religion of grace. Often, however, its gracious foundations are tacitly assumed and often the law takes a place of overwhelming priority. It is not surprising if a religion whose heart lies in praxis rather than theory (theology), a religion dominated by nomism, where the covenant is more presupposed than articulated, inadvertently produces followers who fall into a legalistic mode of existence.” 118-119
“It is of course debatable whether justification by faith is the "center" of Paul's theology. What is more important for our purposes is whether justification by faith is important for Paul, indeed, to the extent that it is more than a ploy merely to advance the Gentile mission, but a doctrine indispensable even for the salvation of the Jews.” 119
“Gundry's conclusion is correct: "The use of the law to establish one's own righteousness is what Paul finds wrong in Palestinian Judaism, including his past life."” 127. Gundry, "Grace, Works, and Staying Saved," 16. At the end of his article, Gundry states that it was "because of a conviction that works-righteousness lay at the heart of Judaism and Judaistic Christianity" that Paul rejected them (37-38.).
Against Dunn: “In some of us there lingers the feeling that in a number of instances Paul seems to have picked a strange way of arguing—a way that must be regarded as indirect and misleading—if he is concerned solely about the national distinctives and privileges of Israel, and nothing more.” 129
“That some valid insights have emerged in the new perspective on Paul I do not wish to deny. I find myself doubtful, however, that the new perspective itself constitutes a breakthrough to a truer estimate of Paul and Judaism. This time Copernicus and his followers are taking us down the wrong path.” 130
THE NEW PERSPECTIVE ON PAUL: ITS BASIC TENETS, HISTORY, AND PRESUPPOSITIONS (F. David Farnell) pdf
The Attractions of the New Perspective(s) on Paul (By J. Ligon Duncan)
In a nutshell, the NPP suggests that:
1. the Judaism of Paul's day was not a religion of self-righteousness that taught salvation by merit;
2. Paul's argument with the Judaizers was not about a "works-righteousness" view of salvation, over against the Christian view of salvation by grace;
3. Instead, Paul's concern was for the status of Gentiles in the church;
4. So justification is more about ecclesiology than soteriology, more about who is part of the covenant community and what are its boundary markers than about how a person stands before God.
“At the heart of NPP’s critique of both Protestant and Catholic interpretation of Paul is the charge that Reformational-era theologians read Paul via a medieval framework that obscured the categories of first-century Judaism, resulting in a complete misunderstanding of his teaching on Justification. The ideas of “the righteousness of God,” “imputation,” and even the definition of justification itself—all these have been invented or misunderstood by Lutheran and Catholic traditions of interpretation.”
Jesus' Perspective on Sola Fide (John MacArthur)
We say that's nonsense. We reject the historical and hermeneutical revisionism of the New Perspective, but regardless of how one interprets the apostle Paul, it is quite clear that Jesus taught justification by faith alone. To abandon this truth is to abandon biblical soteriology altogether.
But the one occasion where Jesus actually declared someone "justified" provides the best insight into the doctrine as He taught it:
He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, 'God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted" (Luke 18:9-14, emphasis added).
That parable surely shocked Jesus' listeners! They "trusted in themselves that they were righteous" (v. 9)--the very definition of self-righteousness.
Jesus' point is clear. He was teaching that justification is by faith alone. All the theology of justification is there.
Wright argues that justification
in the first century was not about how someone might establish a relationship with God. It was about God’s eschatological definition, both future and present, of who was, in fact, a member of his people. In Sanders’ terms, it was not so much about ‘getting in,’ or indeed about ‘staying in,’ as about ‘how you could tell who was in.’ In standard Christian theological language, it wasn’t so much about soteriology as about ecclesiology; not so much about salvation as about the church. Wright, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 119.
Wright contends that “‘justification,’ as seen in [Romans] 3.24-26, means that those who believe in Jesus Christ are declared to be members of the true covenant family; which of course means that their sins are forgiven, since that was the purpose of the covenant.” He goes on to conclude that “the gospel—not ‘justification by faith,’ but the message about Jesus—thus reveals the righteousness, that is, the covenant faithfulness, of God.” Wright, Paul, p. 129.
In Wright’s examination of the sitz im leben in Galatia , he writes that the problem Paul addresses is whether
his ex-pagan converts be circumcised or not? Now this question is by no means obviously to do with the questions faced by Augustine and Pelagius, or by Luther and Erasmus. On anyone’s reading, but especially within its first-century context, it has to do quite obviously with the question of how you define the people of God: are they to be defined by the badges of Jewish race, or in some other way? Circumcision is not a ‘moral’ issue; it does not have to do with moral effort, or earning salvation by good deeds. Nor can we simply treat it as a religious ritual, then designate all religious ritual as crypto-Pelagian good works, and so smuggle Pelagius into Galatia as the arch-opponent after all. Wright, Paul, pp. 120-21;
Wright continues to elaborate the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees and argues that the disagreement
came about not because he was an antinomian or because he believed in justification by faith while they believed in justification by works but because his kingdom-agenda for Israel demanded that Israel leave off her frantic paranoid self-defense, reinforced as it now was by the ancestral codes, and embrace instead the vocation to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth. 【 Wright, (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1999), p. 58.】
Now, notice how Wright by-passes discussion of sin and soteriology and makes reference only to ecclesiology and eschatology. Repentance simply constitutes abandonment of misinterpretation of the tradition as it relates to covenant and eschatology. Absent are the concepts of personal morality, sin, and soteriology, which are inextricably linked with justification, ecclesiology, and eschatology.
“To put it bluntly,” writes Trueman,
it seems to me that the current revision of the doctrine of justification as formulated by the advocates of the so-called New Perspective on Paul is nothing less than a fundamental repudiation not just of that Protestantism which seeks to stand within the creedal and doctrinal trajectories of the Reformation but also of virtually the entire Western tradition on justification from at least as far back as Augustine. Carl R. Trueman, “The Portrait of Martin Luther in Contemporary New Testament Scholarship: Some Casual Observations,” 1. Lecture delivered at Tyndale Fellowship in Christian Doctrine, 2001.
Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God— A long series (By Ben Witherington)