Sunday, November 16, 2014

Best New Perspective Insights

Here is my attempt to capture the best insights of the last sixty years or so since the first rumblings of a revised perspective of Paul in relation to Judaism:
  • Paul did not see himself as a miserable failure at keeping the Law before he believed on Christ. If anything, his attitude was more like the Pharisee in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18. As far as the righteousness in the Law, he was blameless (Phil. 3:6). Stendahl
  • Paul's "conversion" certainly was not a change of religions but a partial modification of his beliefs within Judaism, most significantly the fact that he came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. (Stendahl would say a call, but that is probably too weak.) Paul is not his Christian name (Acts continues to call him Saul for over a decade after he believes Jesus is the Messiah) but relates to his Roman name. It would be easy to argue that Paul had long suppressed his Diaspora identity--a more generative psychological explanation for his conversion than introspective guilt in the modern sense.
  • Paul's turning point centered on a religious experience he had of the risen Christ. (Segal)
  • The earliest Christians were thus a messianic sect. They in no way saw themselves as departing from Judaism but saw themselves representing what all of Israel should believe and do, true Israel, as it were.
  • Those elements of Paul's theology that the "new perspective" has most impacted largely grew out of the Gentile mission. In these areas, Paul's theology largely developed "from solution to plight." (Sanders) Paul knew that the Gentiles were in through Christ (solution); therefore, he presented arguments for why keeping "works of Law" was not effective for "justification" before God (problem).
  • "Works of Law" for Paul referred especially to those aspects of the Jewish Law that were "boundary markers" that separated Jew from Gentile. (Dunn) These stood at the heart of the earliest Christian debate over the inclusion of the Gentiles into the community of faith. Judaizers argued that Gentiles had to be circumcised to be included, and James/Peter argued that they had to observe certain purity rules to have table fellowship. Paul's teaching on justification by faith (solution) grew out of these problems.
  • Later interpreters of Paul have understandably misread Judaism in the light of Paul's arguments. For example, Jews did not see themselves as keeping the Law to get right with God. Keeping the Law was not about "getting in" but about "staying in" (Sanders). Indeed, it wasn't even as much about staying in as about responding appropriately to God's covenant expectations (covenantal nomism--Sanders).
  • Judaism thus thoroughly presupposed that God was a God of grace, meaning that his favor was not earned by Israel's faithfulness. (Sanders) Once we understand grace against the backdrop of patron-client relationships, we see that there were informal expectations that came with grace, even if grace could not be earned. (Malina)
  • It is thus incorrect to accuse either Judaism or interpretations of Paul as "justification by works" if we conclude that there were definite ethical expectations of both Jews and believers. Paul teaches that our deeds are an element of our final justification before God. (Wright) This neither contradicts a proper understanding of grace nor Paul's arguments that keeping the ethnic particulars of the Jewish Law cannot demonstrate one's right standing before God.
  • Justification language did not stand at the heart of Paul's theology but was rather a set of lenses Paul used in response to opposition to the Gentile mission from conservative elements within the earliest church. (Sanders, Dunn)
  • Paul's arguments about "faith in Christ" begin with statements about how he and the Jerusalem church agree on the necessity of the "faithfulness of Jesus" for a right standing before God. (Schenck, synthesizing both Hays and Dunn)
  • Paul's arguments with his opponents are thus arguments over a story (Hays), namely, the story of Christ's death and resurrection. Paul shares with earliest Christianity the belief that the resurrection has enthroned Jesus as Messiah. He shares with earliest Christianity the belief that the cross has functioned as a sacrifice of atonement, that the "faithfulness of Jesus" has made justification possible before God. He agrees that baptism in the name of Jesus is a mystical participation in the death of Jesus (Sanders, Schweitzer). He disagrees on the implications of these affirmations.
  • Wright is probably correct on a background narrative at least in this respect. The cross was seen by the earliest Christians as the solution to the problem of Israel's "captivity." Israel should not be under the power of the Romans. God would send a Messiah to deliver it. Jesus' death was likely initially seen as a Maccabean type sacrifice to atone for the sins of Israel.


Pastor Bob said...

Considered this under Dr. David Van Hoose, definitely worth more than one reading. Thanks for your work.

Anonymous said...

Do you see this affecting the way the church preaches ethics or obedience in any way now? Or has it yet to filter into pastors' ways of thinking about justification and the Christian life? From where I sit, the NPP is utterly absent from view. Maybe you need to write a book on the NPP for Wesleyans. :-)


Ken Schenck said...

In a sense, my first two Paul books with Wesleyan Publishing House try to play these concepts out: Paul: Messenger of Grace (1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians) and Paul: Soldier of Peace (Romans).


Anonymous said...

Yay for noticing "Paul's turning point centered on a religious experience he had of the risen Christ. (Segal)".
It seems not only does faith without works not get a person saved (St.James), neither does head knowledge without heart knowledge (St. Paul). :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I will have to check out these two books.