Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tom Wright and the New Perspective

Filling in gaps in my Hebrews book...
... N. T. Wright substantially agrees with Dunn on the question of works of Law. Even before Dunn began to popularize the phrase, "new perspective," Wright had written that Israel's problem, according to Paul, was not legalism or an attempt to become righteous by doing good works. Rather, Paul saw Israel as guilty of "national righteousness," "the belief that fleshly Jewish descent guarantees membership of God's true covenant people." [1] Dunn agreed. [2]

We see this sentiment play out especially in Paul's letter to the Romans. Dunn writes, "The 'boasting' of the 'Jew' in Rom. 2:17-23 is certainly to be understood as a boasting in covenant privilege over against the less-favored, or rather passed-over Gentiles" [3] Dunn assents to what Brendon Byrne has written similarly of Romans 10:3. In this verse, Israel is said to have attempted to establish its own righteousness. Byrne writes, "'their own righteousness' ... can only mean the righteousness of Israel as holy people separate from the sinful rest of humankind." [4]

Wright and Dunn thus shift the sense of boasting in Romans from a sense of boasting in individual righteousness, because of an individual's good works, to a boasting in one's race, one's Jewishness, over and against non-Jews. Similarly, the works in question are not just any good works but especially those works of the Jewish Law that most differentiated Jew from Gentile in matters like circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath observance. The so called "new perspective" thus pulled the trajectory of Pauline scholarship out of the clouds of a generalized and universizalized Paul, the Paul of Augustine and the Reformation, and back down to the concrete earth that was the real world that Paul was navigating as he conducted the Gentile mission...

[1] "The Paul of History and the Apostle of Faith," (1978), in Pauline Perspectives, 6.

[2] E.g., "The New Perspective on Paul," (1983), in The New Perspective on Paul, 114-15.

[3] New Perspective, 9.

[4] "The Problem of Nomos and the Relationship with Judaism in Romans," CBQ 62 (2000): 294-309, esp. 302, quoted in Dunn, New Perspective, 11 n.40.


Susan Moore said...

So, it seems you are saying that whether the works are related to nationality, religion or individuality -or anything else- a Christian should not judge a book by its cover (Gal. 3:26-29).
But, if I may add, the world, that believes itself to be uninterrupted by God, will judge. Because the world is watching us and therefore influenced by us, it is vital for Christians to act like Christians, even when we are having a 'bad day' (in comparison to someone who is not saved by grace by their God-given faith, is it truly possible for a Christian to have a 'bad day'?!)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

"National Righteousness"???? How can you (or Wright) suggest that this is what Paul meant (other than that is how Wright applies scripture to today)? There were no nation states, like we have today, under Constitutional Government. The Jews were a religious tribe, just as Christians were.

We all must categorize to make judgments, as this is what thinking and rationality is about. Yet, you write that we cannot judge this way? Humans are not to be biased, prejuidiced or discriminate?? How can we critique or have liberty of speech, then? Are those in Power to determine what is "Politically Correct" and limit all other speech?

Christians, in Wright's opinion should be irrational, universalistic morons (Idealists) that seek peace through non-resistance. This is the "way of the Cross"?

It seems to be the Foreign Policy of our nation these days and such thinking is not making for more peace but less! And why? In the name of political correctness Government HAS limited "speech" and granted "special priviledge"; those deemed "the oppressed", whether racially or economically! Really disturbing.

Pastor Bob said...

Jesus seemed to share the thought the Jews thought they were righteous because of heritage.

"And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham." Matt. 3:9

John Mark said...

I don't know if you can connect any dots here or if I am totally off base, but I have had parishoners come to me when I have had to remove someone from a leadership position, and said "My grandparents built this church." Somehow this is supposed to give moral failure a pass.