Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Sin, the New Perspective, the Pope, and Peter Enns

No, the post doesn't try to connect all these. These are just some topics that have wandered through my head today as I sit at home with my sick son Tom until my wife returns to relieve me for Latin at 1:15.

First, sin. We translated Galatians 2:15 today in my Greek Galatians class this morning. I argued to them that to put "sinners" in quotes ("we who are Jews by nature and not sinners from the Gentiles") reflects a misunderstanding of the context (sic to the NIV). Of course Paul literally meant that Gentiles were sinners. Indeed, the point he is building to in 2:17 is that Christian Jews are sinners too.

Where the new perspective on Paul comes in is this. First, calling it the new perspective turns out to be a little like thinking of modern translations as more recent texts than the "old" King James. The text is not newer, it's older. The KJV text is based on manuscripts over 700 years "newer" than those on which modern translations are based.

Exactly! The new perspective on Paul is nothing other than the attempt to take Paul's Jewish context seriously, just as the "third quest" is nothing other than the attempt to take Jesus' Jewish context seriously. The reason some groups have fought tooth and nail against the new perspective is not because their perspective is "older" but because some of their traditions are being questioned by the recent trend of reading Paul in his Jewish context.

So on the matter of Paul's understanding of sin--and I don't know anyone who has addressed this from this "new, original Jewish, perspective"--it is the same error of tradition to define sin as anything short of absolute perfection. Just as when Paul says "all have sinned" he is thinking concretely of Jews and Gentiles, both have sinned, what standard would a Jew take as the point of departure for what a sin is? Obviously, the concrete Jewish Law.

A sinner is thus someone who violates the Jewish Law, not someone who falls short or "misses the mark" of absolute moral perfection. And the primary sense of such sin is intentional, not unintentional. I can hardly find any room in Paul's thought for unintentional sin in the context of known rights and wrongs.

Then the Pope. He reinstated an excommunicated priest who had denied the Holocaust. Now he is demanding the priest recant such positions. For all my sense of the importance of the church catholic, it is unfortunate that so much authority came to be placed into a single individual and a single institution that only with great difficulty can reverse its course on an issue.

Finally, I've asked Peter Enns and he's agreed to do a Q & A in the near future here on some topics of interest. Personally, I'm very intrigued that he has been attending a Nazarene Church for about 7 years, although I believe he remains a member of the Presbyterian Church of America and theologically Calvinist. We'll forgive him for that :-)

Nevertheless, I'll be interested to know what differences in flavor he has picked up on. We'll also ask him what he's been up to recently and let him respond to our recent reviews of his book, Inspiration and Incarnation.

Pagan Christianity review 2 tomorrow, Lord willing...

1 comment:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The question of authority and power is a valid one. It is only wise to limit power or balance power, otherwise, we are at the whim of another's desire, which is limiting to others in their pursuits, visions, desires, or dreams...
The Pope speaks for the church, which are individuals. Even when there is leadership that has a balance of power, which we see in our culture,it leaves little virtue at the top, when "good ole boy" networks rule...they are in "cahoots" together and covering their own interests by covering another's, disregarding the "common man" is the exhileration of position that produces pride and a sense of entitlement...which disregard ethical concerns for the most profitable to those at the top, which is for themselves...(no matter what they say about providing for "us").

I find it interesting that the press now whines over Daschle's withdrawal, because it will limit the progress of health care reform! The media seeks to distract from his character, for the pragmatic self interest concerns of the American public, so that he and Obama can "run under cover" of their distractive tactics!