The End of the New Perspective

Preston Sprinkle —  January 31, 2012 — 23 Comments
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the seriesWhat is the New Perspective?

This title may have attracted some witch hunters seeking evidence to burn N.T. Wright at the stake. If this is you, then better go back and read the previous four posts. The title, as the rest of you may know, means that this is the last of our New Perspective posts, which may elicit a blend of “yeahs” and “boos.” In any case, I’ll wrap up this series by laying out my own views about the so-called New Perspective on Paul (NPP). I’ve insinuated throughout that I’m not an advocate of the NPP, and yet I’ve tried to accurately and fairly represent it in the previous posts.

So, what do I see wrong with the New Perspective? Three things.

First, NPP proponents (broadly speaking) see Paul and first-century Judaism as having the same structure of salvation, but different identify markers. If I just lost most of you, let me explain. It’s typical of NPP interpreters to see Paul and Judaism as having the same understanding of grace and works. Both Paul and Judaism, they say, believe that salvation is by grace and our works are nothing more than a response to grace. This is pretty much what Sanders, Dunn, and even Wright would say. Or in the words of the brilliant NT scholar, Morna Hooker, “just as Palestinian Judaism understood obedience to the Law to be the proper response of Israel to the covenant on Sinai, so Paul assumes that there is an appropriate response for Christians who have experienced God’s saving activity in Christ” (Hooker, “Covenantal Nomism,” 48).

My only problem with this understanding of Paul and Judaism is this: it’s just not true. Having studied the original documents of Judaism for the last 6 years, I must say that while they were not robustly legalistic (merit mongers working their way to heaven apart from grace), they weren’t as “Calvinistic” as Paul (please excuse the anachronism). Our beloved Apostle believed that “God justifies the ungodly” (Rom 4:5) and—take note of this—nowhere in first century Judaism do we see such a radical assertion. A section of the Dead Sea ScrollsIn fact, the Dead Sea Scrolls are famous for being “hyper-Calvinists” (tongue in cheek) and even they don’t make such ridiculous claims. For the Scrolls, “God atoned” for and “justified the righteous, and pronounced the wicked to be wicked (CD 4:6-7 [a famous scroll from the Dead Sea]). God doesn’t justify the ungodly—that would be offensive! But for Paul, it was not only affirmed but necessary, since we’re all ungodly! Paul believed that all—including Jews—are insatiably sinful and can do no good on their own. This leaves only the wicked to be justified by God—even though this was considered heretical and absurd by most Jews in the first century. Paul was a “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil 3), but his Damascus road experience really rattled him something fierce. Paul’s view of divine grace is unparalleled in first-century Judaism. (I’ve got a few caveats here for those interested.)

Second, the phrase “works of the law” cannot be limited to Jewish boundary markers. I may have built a good case for this in my first two posts, but a close look at all the passages shows that “works of the law” refers to the demands of the old covenant law which Israel failed to keep. Dietary regulations may be emphasized in Galatians 2:16 and perhaps in Romans 3:28 (I still have my doubts here), but in all other instances (e.g. Rom 3:20; Gal 3:2, 5, 10), “works of the law” refers to the demands of the Mosaic law as a whole. So when Paul says that no one is justified by works of the law in Romans 3:20, he’s simply saying what he says elsewhere: that righteousness did not and cannot come through law (Gal 2:20-21; 3:21; Rom 4:4-5; 7:6-8:11). Limiting Paul’s critique to ethnocentrism cannot account for Paul’s driving point: we’re all jacked up and in need of unilateral grace to be saved (Rom 4:4-5 my translation).

Third, and somewhat related to the previous point, although the NPP has very helpfully brought to light the importance of the Jew/Gentile issue in Paul, this should not be pitted against a more classic reading of Romans and Galatians. In other words, we need to distinguish between the unique and surprising content of justification by faith (Rom 4:4-6)—that God declares righteous his ungodly enemies—and its universal scope (Rom 4:9-16)—that this salvation is given to Jew and Gentile on the same basis. The “Old Perspective” seemed to emphasize only the former, while the “New Perspective” the latter. Both, to my mind, are beautiful and true.

Let me end, however, by tipping my hat one more time to the New Perspective. Having read piles of stuff written by NPP advocates, I’ve been forced to go back and bury my nose in the text of God’s precious word. It’s been tedious at times, but overall I feel that I have a better grasp on what God was breathing out through the pen of Paul. And any time we are forced to revisit the text with fresh eyes, new questions, and a sensible spirit, that’s a pretty good day at the office. So let me end by encouraging you with the words of the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who on the eve of his exile from Nazi Germany, exhorted his students with these words:

“We have been studying cheerfully and seriously…And now the end has come. So listen to my piece of advice: exegesis, exegesis, and yet more exegesis! Keep to the Word, to the Scripture that has been given to us.”

–Karl Barth, on the event of his formal farewell to his students in Bonn, just prior to his expulsion from Germany in 1935.

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Preston Sprinkle

Preston Sprinkle

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I'm married to a beautiful wife and we have four kids (3 girls and a boy). I've been teaching college level Bible and Theology classes for a few years now (since 2007), and enjoy hanging out with my family, running, surfing, and life in SoCal. Before I became a teacher, I was in school. Lots and lots of school. I did a B.A. and M.Div here in SoCal, and then did a Ph.D. in Scotland in NT studies. Before coming to EBC, I taught at Nottingham University for a semester, and Cedarville University for a couple of years. Along with surfing, I also love to research and write, and I've written a few things on Paul, Early Judaism, and Hell.
  • Sean

    Dr. Sprinkle, thanks for clearing this up for me! I wanted to know your opinion on this: I think that we need to look justification hollistically, as it’s presented throughout the Bible. If we look at the criminal on the cross, in Luke 23:43 Jesus says to the criminal, “today you will be with me in paradise”, in regards to the criminals request to be remembered, and his belief that Jesus was of God. Now, I think the Spirit doesn’t contradict Himself when inspiring Scripture. I also think that from the exchange, it’s inferred that justification is done on the basis of belief alone, where works is necessary evidence, but not the basis. Otherwise, wouldn’t the criminal be condemned?

  • paul

    Nice conversation. A couple of things, if I’m not too late.

    1 – seems to me that your first point (Jews taught God justified the godly and Paul taught he justified anybody) really only works if you claim Paul to be a universalist. Because if Paul was teaching christian doctrine — that you need to have a conversion and demonstrate that through godly behavior — then it’s no different.

    Fr Paul to be teaching the opposite, it really has to be opposite: everyone is saved, righteous or not.

    2 – It’s futile to insist that there is one way to reconcile all the concepts in Acts, Hebrews and the Epistles. Either this is the most convoluted system ever conceived, or the most logical solution is that the books were written by different people at different times who didn’t necessariy agree.

  • http://www.mikesnow.org Michael Snow

    Thank you, this was the most refreshing series of articles that I have read in a long time. The only scary thing [forget the guys with the pitchforks] was that foto of the late Krister Stendahl–reminded me of Herman Munster!…suppose it’s the fused spine thing look (guess that dates me!).

    And I was out of date and uninformed on this topic. I wince when ever E.P. Sanders is named and hate to see it in the same sentence as Dunn Wright. Those who have never heard of the ‘New Perspective’ probably have no inkling of Sander’s heretical views on the Resurrection. That may be one reason some are wary of the NPP topic.

    While we cannot have it both ways on some things, there is also a real problem with not appreciating paradox. The ‘holy conjunction'(“and”)is often lost in the fray.

    Looking forward to reading more of your clear, fresh writing in the future.

    • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

      Thanks for dropping in, Michael!

      Ya, Sanders has a quite a few shady views about the New Testament and Christianity. To see a rather creative example, look up the phrase “absolute truth” in the subject index of Paul and Palestinian Judaism. You’ll be led to a blank page in between chapters! And he’s pretty convinced that the portrait of the Pharisees in the gospels is not historical.

      But then again, I wouldn’t want to discount what he says about Paul and Judaism based on what he says about other things in the NT. Even conservatives sometimes have weird views on some issues, but this doesn’t mean that we don’t listen to what they say on others. I’m reminded of the late Greg Bahnsen, who was a theonomist (believes that the OT law should be reinstituted in society). I think that’s pretty whacky, but his stuff on apologetics is amazing. I guess I’m a fan of the who baby and the bathwater analogy.

    • http://mikesnow.org Michael Snow

      I made a serious mistake in my comments above re: Sander’s ‘heretical views’–I confused his words with those of another NT scholar.

      Sander’s has said, “That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.”

      He certainly views the Bible as fallible.

  • Mike Cratch

    I’m not much of a blog follower but have enjoyed your last couple of blogs very much. Especially your Pauline take. Thanks for your hard work and the encouragement it brings!

  • Bobby Garringer

    Really good! All five parts.

  • John Metz

    Many apologies, Preston. Due to circumstances, I was not able to read any of my blog list (long and varied) yesterday, so no post.

    I appreciate the amount of labor you have put into these posts and the clarity with which you have written them. I also like the fact that you do not have an axe to grind in the debate. We need more gracious understanding and explanation in what is too often a contentious evangelicalism. Thanks for the labor.

    This post echos with me. While I do recognize that the “Jewish boundary markers” do have significance with the gospel in its entirety (Eph. 2), I simply cannot put 2nd temple Judaism and Paul together (sans aforementioned boundary markers) concerning grace and the gospel. Your three points are very helpful and encapsulate my problem with NP while not negating some of the contributions of its authors.

    Thanks again for a helpful series of posts.

    • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

      Thanks John! Thanks for stopping in!

  • Andrew

    Thanks for the posts! I probably just don’t understand your nuances quite yet… So I have a question: How closely do you see Paul lining up with the OT testimony and vision of salvation (eschatology)? I read Wright as more emphasizing Paul’s continuity with the OT vision than with 1 century Judaism(s) (haven’t read much of Dunn–early or late :) ). It seems Wright simply pulls from second-temple sources to confirm his exegesis of the OT stories/visions/symbols by seeing how second-temple discussion/agreements/disagreements revolve around the same stories/visions/symbols that the OT produces. I guess just because Paul disagrees with some 2nd-1st C Essenes doesn’t mean that he reads Scripture (the OT) and interprets it (albeit in light of Messiah) in different worldview *categories*. Is it true to say that Paul redefines the OT’s (and therefore Judaism(s)) story and symbols around Messiah? If this is true then what is to be emphasized is the continuity of the story/symbols in order to properly understand the redefinitions. This is the point I’ve reckoned Wright to be emphasizing (I never read him as endorsing a strict one-one continuity with 1st century Judaism-as if there were such a uniformity in Judaism-that you seem vehement to denounce). When you say that Paul has a structurally different soteriology than Judaism which Judaism are you referring to and do you also think Paul has a different structure of soteriology than the OT? What continuities and discontinuities do you discern between divine and human agency in salvation between the OT and Paul?

    Also, just out of curiosity, how do you handle the fact that the scriptures Paul pulls from in Romans 3 to “prove” that all are ungodly (in Romans 3 his point is more to prove that *Jews* are included in the notion “under sin”) come from texts that explicitly *do not* teach the universality of sin and actually teach a categorical separation from those under sin–Gentiles(?)– (“the fool” “foe” “violent men” “wicked” etc.) and the Psalmist or the people of Israel? It seems Paul is midrashing to make a pre-determined point rather than exegeting the OT to reestablish an already existing point especially because all the Scriptures he appeals to (except for maybe Isa 59 which would refer to the exilic generation) teach that if any are ungodly it’s the enemies of the Israel. This one has bugged me for a while…

    Thanks Preston!

    Andrew R

    • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

      Andrew (Rillera?),

      Great questions! Lot of good stuff to interact with here, but let me focus on Wright’s understanding of continuity.

      In short, Wright seems to draw a straight line from Genesis through the Prophets, on through early Judaism, right into Jesus and Paul. The points of discontinuity between Paul and Judaism(s) are the symbols: temple/church, Law/Spirit, Land/Christ, etc.

      And for the most part, he’s correct. However, within such continuity, I think there’s a good deal of diversity and discontinuity. Within the OT itself, there are diverse expressions of how to restore the covenant. The Chronicler will say repent, pray, and return to the law, while Jeremiah and Ezekiel will say you can’t repent, your prayers are offensive, and you can’t return to the law (dry bones, in other words, don’t repent). So they look forward to a unilateral act of God who restores the nation. And this seems to be the paradigm of restoration that shapes Paul’s (see too Isa 40-55). But the Judaisms of Paul’s day looked more towards Deuteronomy as the paradigm of restoration, which is governed more by the “if…then” rather than the “I will…” of the prophets.

      In short, Paul was more “Prophetic” in his view of salvation while Judaism was more “Deuteronomic.” Tons of nuances and caveats on needed here, but on the whole I think it’s pretty clear.

      So with Wright, I think he fails to appreciate the discontinuity in how Paul and Qumran viewed the relationship between divine and human agency in how the covenant is restored. It’s more than just different symbols. (I should say, though, that I would line up with about 90% of Wright’s stuff on the whole.)

      Does that make sense?

      p

      • Andrew

        Yes, Rillera :).

        I sense that we are experiencing the limitations of blogging/commenting because what you say makes intelligible sense in itself, but not as answers to my questions. Also, there are are too many over simplifications going on to be helpful (e.g. there is plenty of forgiveness and repentance talk in “second” Isaiah–44:21-22; 59:1-21; 63:7-64:12; Paul brings in a Deuteronomic view of Jewish salvation in Romans 10-11; Jeremiah is *very* Deuteronomic to the point that most “liberal” scholars would say he is the prophetic embodiment of the Deuteronomic tradition (cf. Brueggemann); etc. (I extremely agree in the differing voices within the OT canon btw and that Ezekiel is more unilateral in perspective).

        Also, though I think I understand what you’re saying, I don’t think I agree. So I’ll ask clarifying questions to shed light on the historical gaps in my brain:

        Which Jewish sects were exclusively Deuteromonic?

        How can you imply Wright thinks of Paul in Deuteronomic rather than prophetic terms when Wright emphasizes (sometimes *over* emphasizes) the apocalyptic nature of (Paul’s) Gospel and makes consistent and constant appeal to Isaiah 40-55? Where does he say Paul and Qumran have continuity to the extend that he doesn’t use that continuity as the opportunity to highlight Paul’s distinctive redefinitions around Jesus? You say, “However, within such continuity, I think there’s a good deal of diversity and discontinuity” and I don’t see how you think that this claim is somehow in disagreement with Wright’s thought.

        I guess I’m asking for an explicit and specific statement/example/passage where you compare and contrast Wright’s view of covenant restoration and yours. Simply saying he is different isn’t helpful because from what I’ve read of Wright I can’t make sense of what you’re asserting to be the disagreement(s). It seems from my perspective that you want to say you disagree with ‘10%’ of Wright, yet what you say the content of that disagreement is seems to be consistent with what Wright has affirmed. You seem to desperately want to have something to disagree with Wright, yet can’t ever seem put your finger on it, for whenever you state the apparent disagreement I find myself thinking, “that’s no different than what I’ve read in Wright.” (sorry if that was redundant!) I may be tone deaf and therefore unable to pick your resonances, and if this is the case it justifies these further questions :).

  • Andrew Smith

    Thanks for these posts, Preston. Helpful and clarifying. In a previous post, you mentioned how NPP supporters don’t see justification as the central doctrine of Christian soteriology, but instead simply one of many Pauline metaphors (contra leaders of the New Calvinist movement who maintain that justification by faith *is* the gospel). What are your thoughts on that?

    • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

      For the most part, I agree with the NPP on this. I do think that God’s radical grace manifested in Christ toward the ungodly is fundamental for Paul. But I don’t think even this should be limited to Just/faith but is expressed in many different metaphors of salvation. It drives Eph 2:1-10, and yet there’s no justification by faith in this chapter (2:8-9 doesn’t use the term “justify” but “save”).

  • Adam F

    Thanks for the these great articles Preston. I’ve really enjoyed reading them and they’ve definitely challenged me to dive further into the text. Really enjoyed the discussions as well.

    Here’s the way I understand it. I would agree with you that the “works of the Law” are not limited to boundary markers (although I still think there is strong connection there). I’m not totally convinced that “works of the Law” is really any different than “observance of the Law”. Although I find it interesting that the same phrase in the DSS 4QMMT encompasses rules about separation from impure pagan things and intermarriage.

    I find much clarity about Paul and his letters by looking at the historical account of Acts … the continuing story of Jesus through his followers. Acts 15 tells us that some believers in Jesus who were Pharisees believed that gentiles should be circumcised and becomes proselytes in order to be saved (15:5). Basically they would have to become Jews by “keeping the law” or as Paul would say “the works of the Law”. The apostles and elders all gathered and came to the conclusion that they did not have to become Torah observant proselytes to be saved. The apostles and elders, though Law observant themselves, did not even believe that they as Jews had to earn their righteousness by perfectly keeping of the Law – God had provided this in Christ – so why should they impose such a belief upon the gentiles? This can be seen not only in Acts 15:11 but also in passages like Rom 3:28 and Gal 2:15-16. So here in Acts the same issue is addressed in the context of Jew/Gentile relations.

    I think that Paul’s view of the Law really needs a makeover in our churches today. We often misunderstand his arguments regarding the Law as if it were the enemy Jesus destroyed at the cross. The Law came from God. It is “spiritual” according to Paul. Did it reveal sin? Was it powerless to bring about inward transformation? Was it a tutor to lead us to the teacher? Yes, but the purpose of the Law is multifaceted. But it was never the enemy. God did not double-cross himself by nailing the Law to the cross. Acts actually portrays a very positive view of the Law. Jewish men like Ananias who move in the power of the Holy Spirit are described as being a “devout observer of the Law” (22:12) and indeed Paul even payed for sacrifices at the temple to prove the lies circulating about him were not true – that he taught Jews to forsake observance of the Law and that he himself was not a keeper of the Law (21:24) – the very misconception most Christians and Jews have about Paul today. It seems that Paul has been misunderstood from the beginning! Even Peter talks about this (2 Pet 3:15-16). Why do I feel that this is such an important subject? Because God’s heart is to restore his people Israel, for whom Paul wished he himself could be “cut off” on their behalf. But forcing Jews to become gentiles – totally flipping the tables on them now – and telling them that they must forsake their “legalistic” traditions in order to receive Christ is totally against the work of God. There has actually been many prominent Jews who have come to faith in Jesus in the last couple centuries and found themselves between a rock and a hard place – the gentile dominated church and the anti-Jesus synagogue. Some of these people were head rabbis of countries like Italy – who gave it all up like Paul to serve their Messiah. How did they understand this apostle in light of their Jewish background – would they call it a “New Perspective” on Paul?

    Thanks again for the great posts Preston.

    • Adam F

      I wish I re-read that before posting – too many grammatical mistakes! Oh well, thanks for letting me ramble. Also, I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but I really appreciate your highly educational and balanced view on the NPP subject.

    • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

      Adam,

      Tons of great thoughts here! Let me just affirm whole-heartily that Acts DEFINITELY has a positive view of the law. In some ways, it seems quite different from Romans and Galatians, but that’s just because we usually begin with Romans and Galatians and then go back and don’t know what to do with Acts (e.g. chs. 15, 21)! And, as you’ve said before, perhaps the problem is that we haven’t read Romans and Galatians carefully enough. Paul is much more positive on the law in Romans and Galatians than we sometimes recognize.

      Even still, there are some statements Paul makes that are bewildering and are hard to reconcile with the more positive view of the law in Acts, which is why there’s 100s of books and 1000s of articles written on the subject; if it was super clear, there’d be no debate. For instance, Eph 2:14-15 does seem to say that Christ has abolished the law. There are ways of getting around this, but the syntax and language is a bit disturbing at face value. I can’t really fault the average Christian from reading this passage and walk away thinking that the law is done away with. Gal 3:15-29 seems a bit critical of the law. Paul even distances the law from God when he says that it was given through angels (3:19). It’s not contrary to the promise (3:21) and yet he still contrasts law with promise throughout. He even cause the law our pedagogue, which, as you know, can have quite negative connotations (3:24). Gal 3:23 itself seems quite negative. And then there’s 2 Cor 3:3-18. If “tablets of stone” (3:3), “the letter” (3:6), and “letters on stone” (3:7) all refer to the law (which seems clear), then the whole argument, while not saying the law is evil relegates the law to the Old Covenant age which brought death (3:6).

      Now, all of this is debated and I’m aware of the different interpretive options, but the point is that it’s a pretty complicated discussion that involves a ton of exegesis, which sometimes only leads to more confusion!

      So my pastoral point: be patient with those goyim who don’t seem to get it, who still have a more negative view of the law. Paul has, to some extent, given them a lot of material to work with.

      Also, there are quite a number of Christians who don’t have such a negative view of the law. Such view is typical is strong Lutheran circles, which has trickled over into Dispensationalism, but this is fading quite a bit. Most would say as Paul says that the law is good and spiritual (Rom 7), but still has been relegated to the old covenant. But this is quite different from saying that the law is evil.

      Great thoughts, Adam. Keep wrestling with these things!

      p

      • Adam F

        Well stated Preston. I totally receive your pastoral admonition to be patient with others who don’t share the same view on this. (I feel that I can speak freely on this blog since the subject is being discussed). I know the Bible is not easy to follow regarding this subject, especially since well known translations have actually been skewed toward an anti-Torah/anti-Hebraic viewpoint – but why wouldn’t they if their market is gentile Christians? I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers (I would need my doctorate first :) ). Paul has definitely given us a lot of material to work with. As I stated before, I think it’s pretty amusing that even Peter mentions how Paul wrote many difficult things that are hard to grasp which people were distorting in his day (also Rom 3.8). We often talk about how Jesus chose poor, uneducated men to be his disciples, which is very true … yet we shouldn’t ignore that God chose a well educated, highly intelligent and prominent religious man to write most of our New Testament! Maybe that was a mistake? Ok, that was a joke (pitch forks down please).

        There are many difficult passages to wrestle through regardless of which side you take. I think you are totally right that we begin with books like Romans & Galatians (perhaps after reading John) and later conform Acts (and Jesus’ synoptic teachings) to our preconceived opinion of the law. I’m starting to see this as being illogical. I feel that our foundation should actually be the life & teachings of Jesus (Gospels + Acts) since he is our cornerstone. Also, letters can easily be taken out of context. They are very one-sided. I certainly don’t want to believe the liberal view that the Bible contradicts itself – that there is a wrong portrayal of Paul in Acts or that he is not the author of the letters attributed to him. But for me it’s beyond just continuity between the Gospels/Acts on one side and some of Paul’s letters on the other. It’s about continuity with the entire Hebrew Bible. Paul’s foundation for his New Covenant understanding is of course passages like Jer 31:26 and Ez 36:26,27 which teach God’s Torah would be written inside them, He would give them a new spirit & heart, and place His Holy Spirit inside them to help them walk faithfully in the ways of Torah. So now we serve God afresh in “newness of spirit” rather than simply the letter (Rom 7:6) – inward transformation rather than external stone – this is the beauty of the New Covenant. So Paul does include this understanding in 2 Cor 3 which does *appear* to denigrate the Law. But that’s the scary thing about interpretation. I believe that Paul is using a typical Hebraic way of reasoning here -“Qal Va-Homer” language (cf Matt 7:11), which is used not to diminish the 1st covenant but to ELEVATE the new.

        Ok that’s long enough. Don’t want to get too “high maintenance” here :) … so I’m off to bed!

        • Adam F

          *Jer 31:31-34 … sorry!

  • Dan

    Preston,
    In regards to point#1, if I remember correctly, doesn’t Wright and Dunn (It’s been a while since I read them) bash the strict categorization of Paul being “apocalyptic” or “covenantal” in relationship with Judaism (I think Dunn see Wright as being “covenantal” but I forget where I read that Wright challenges that notion)? That is, I am guessing they would see both continuity and discontinuity in understanding of salvation in Paul and Judaism at least in their overall theology (I am thinking Dunn’s New Testament Theology book). Sorry, I can’t remember how Dunn handles Rom. 4:4-5 so I can’t comment on it.

    You may be right about NPP’s view “works of law” governing their interpretation but right now I feel like they have a more reasonable interpretation of these passages than those that use the framework of “legalism” or “ the covenant of works”. I remember reading Watson’s human versus divine agency (I think Gathercole has elements of this as it relates to the Holy Spirit) a long time ago but I wasn’t completely convinced that it did full justice to Paul…but thanks to you, my friend, I am taking another look into it.

    Lastly in regards to NPP making unhelpful statements in regard to the classic reading, I am not sure how much should be attributed to them making a hyperbolic point so people will consider the NPP framework. But I also think some of their points are valid, like “Paul is not teaching perfect obedience or Christ’s active obedience”, which of course are statement made from non-NPP people too.

    Thanks for the dialogue,

    Dan

    • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

      Fair enough, Dan. Good stuff! Ya, I’m kind of sick and tired of wading through huge tracks of NPP literature to understand all the nuances, corrections, qualifications, etc.!

      The one point that does seem clear is that NPP writers emphasize much more continuity in terms of divine and human agency in Paul and Judaism than I think is there (the main point of the book I’m finishing up). The strict Apocalyptic interpreters (Martyn, Campbell) do a great job bringing this out, but Wright’s mild endorsement of an apocalpytic reading doesn’t. I don’t think it has to be this way, but a more covenental reading (Dunn, Wright, and most NPP) tends to see tons of continuity between Paul and Judaism in how they understand divine and human agency in salvation. I love Wright’s covenantal reading; I just think he misses the radical discontinuity between the covenants!

      blessings,

      P

  • Dan

    Preston,

    Thanks again for all these NPP posts.

    As I read your thoughts on what’s wrong with NPP, I kept thinking that none of the NPP guys I have read (Wright, (the later) Dunn, and Garlington) would disagree with any of your 3 points (maybe difference emphasis(?)). I think they would agree that God graciously justifies the ungodly in initial justification(point 1 & 3) and that “works of the law” is not always limited to strictly boundary marks (point#2) and that Paul was against doing the law as it relates to initial justification (point #2), but they would want to stress that all these concepts need to be understood in the context of the Jewish and Gentile tension (Wright-the story of Israel).

    Blessings,

    Dan

    • http://prestonsprinkle.com Preston Sprinkle

      Dan,

      Thanks again for weighing in. And I nearly agree with much of what you said.

      Just to affirm, I love your distinction between the early and later Dunn. The early Dunn viewed “works of the law” more strictly in terms of boundary markers, but the later Dunn doesn’t limit the term so much. (Interestingly, the later Dunn claims that the early Dunn doesn’t exist. Kind of strange.)

      I’m still going to stick to point #1, specifically with the soteriological continuity (I sense I can use big terms with you) between Paul and Judaism. As Hooker says, and as Wright and Dunn (and Yinger and Garlington and Cranford and many many others) consistently affirm: Paul’s view of grace and works is largely the same as Judaism. So when Dunn interprets Rom 4:4-5, he says that Paul was simply saying what Jews would also affirm. But I think Paul is speaking very polemically there, and this forges a rather significant wedge been the NPP and myself.

      Back to “works of the law.” Ya, when some NPP writers are challenged in in their views on this, they sometimes say that it means law-works in general but focuses on boundary markers. I guess my contention is how they understand this phrase (and the phrase “works” with qualification) in terms of Paul’s specific arguments. So, for instance, Wright’s reading of Rom 9:30-10:8 makes Jewish identity a major point (esp. in 9:30; 10:2-3), but I don’t think it’s the main point at all. Dunn too (the later one) still reads Gal 3:10-14 through a more NPP lens, which I think really misses the point of 3:10. Even Wright thinks Dunn’s interpretation here is weird.

      So they may say it’s just a matter of emphasis (e.g. Dunn’s intro to his The New Perspective on Paul, 2005), but when it comes down to unraveling Paul’s arguments, a NPP view of “works of law” seems to govern their interpretation. (I hate using “they,” since there’s so much diversity, but you get the point.)

      Your third point is very fair. Dunn, Wright, and others definitely do not see their reading of Romans 1-4 (for example) as a reversal of a classic reading. Again, though, some NPP writers will still introduce their exegesis with phrases like “Paul is NOT saying that [insert a classic view], but is concerned with Jew/Gentile relations.” It’s these sort of statements that I think are unhelpful.

      Any thoughts?

      Thanks again, Dan, for weighing in!