I did a PowerPoint presentation yesterday at the theological research seminar on the first chapter of a book I have coming out probably first of next year with Fortress, A New Perspective on Hebrews. The presentation gave background on "New Perspectives on Christian Judaism." I went through 1) new perspectives on Paul, 2) the third quest for the historical Jesus, and 3) the partings of the ways. These are all part of the late twentieth century re-examination of early Christianity in the light of Judaism. The reappraisal of Judaism was inspired by the Holocaust and discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Here are what I consider 10 fairly clear insights that have not fully trickled down to the popular level:
1. The Jews were not trying to earn their salvation by good works.
2. Paul did not struggle with a guilty conscience, either before or after he believed in Jesus as Christ.
3. Paul saw works as an element in final salvation. What he did not believe were required for justification were "works of Law," especially those aspects of the Law that separated Jew from Gentile (e.g., circumcision).
4. Romans is not primarily about how to get saved but about how the Gentiles can be included alongside the Jews in the people of God.
5. The Law in Romans is the Jewish Law, not some abstract moral law.
6. Paul did not change religions when he believed on Christ. He probably changed Jewish sects. All the early Christians saw themselves as Jews. The Gentile converts saw themselves as converting to a form of Judaism. It would be more accurate to speak of Christian Jews than of Jewish Christians in the earliest church.
7. The Pharisees were all strict but they were not all legalists in the sense of only caring about rules for their own sake. Jesus puts them in the "healthy" and "righteous" category, at least initially, in several parables. Some of them became believers without leaving Pharisaism.
8. New Testament theology is theo-centric (God the Father centered) rather than Christocentric.
9. The best approach to understanding the historical Jesus locates him within first century Judaisms on a trajectory to the early church (double similarity).
10. The earliest Christians did not see ethnic Israel as replaced but in a temporary state of unbelief.