An Overview of the New Perspective on Paul

Reprinted, with permission, from Faith Pulpit (May/June 2010).

I have had a couple of opportunities to be on camera in front of a “green screen.” The camera captures your image and ignores the green background. It is a great experience because you can project yourself on screen into any number of backgrounds. At one moment you can be skiing in the Alps; the next, you can be surfing on the North Shore. You stay the same, only the background changes. This is the same technology that weather reporters use in their studios to show the weather map.

In an odd kind of way, the green screen illustrates what the New Perspective on Paul is all about. The New Perspective on Paul, however, is not really first and foremost about Paul at all. It is about Paul’s background (i.e., Second Temple Judaism). When you change the background on the green screen from mountains to ocean, people interpret the image in a completely different way. In a similar way, New Perspective scholars are reinterpreting Paul in a variety of different ways because their perception of his background of first-century Judaism has changed.

What Is the New Perspective?

In order to grasp the New Perspective on Paul’s Jewish background, we first need to understand a little bit about the Old Perspective. The Old Perspective was basically the product of Protestant scholarship (especially Lutheran) and was based primarily on later Jewish sources (such as the Talmuds, C. 4-5 century AD). It essentially portrayed first-century Judaism as a monolithic religion that was legalistic, devoid of grace, and dominated by fear.

The New Perspective methodologically limits the study of first-century Judaism to earlier sources (such as the Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, and the Dead Sea Scrolls). Instead of seeing Second Temple Judaism as a monolithic, legalistic religion, it is now seen as a grace-based religion with a variety of branches. The New Perspective renders null and void any attempt to portray first-century Judaism as a works-based, moralistic religion.

At this point the New Perspective may sound merely like an esoteric academic nuance. The conundrum is, however, that the New Perspective dramatically changes Paul’s “green screen” backdrop. If Paul’s Jewish opponents were not legalists, arguing for a works-based righteousness, then how should we interpret Paul?

What Is the New Perspective on Paul?

New Perspective interpreters of Paul are many and varied. To be sure, there is not one New Perspective on Paul, but a plethora of new perspectives. What is common to all of them, though, is that they are using this new understanding of first-century Judaism to refract their interpretations of Paul. We will limit our discussion to three key figures.

E. P. Sanders

In 1977 E. R Sanders published his seminal work, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Fortress). In it he dismantled the “old” view of Judaism and formulated what would be later called the New Perspective. He coined the phrase “covenant nomism” to describe the nature of Second Temple Judaism. Essentially this means that Judaism was a grace-based religion. Jews entered into the covenantal blessings of Israel by faith and God’s grace.

Sanders also argued, however, that Jews within the covenant had to practice the Law to maintain their status. In other words, covenant nomism means that Jews “got in” by faith and “stayed in” by works. This transfer terminology of “getting in” and “staying in” is foundational to the New Perspective and is Sanders’s major contribution to the debate.

Sanders’s interpretation of Paul in light of covenant nomism is certainly novel and a bit disjointed. He argues that only after Paul became a Christian did he work out the “plight” of mankind (opposite of Romans, which is plight to solution). He more or less flattens Judaism and Christianity into equal religions because both are based on covenantal nomism (“getting in” vs. “staying in”). The dispute in Paul, therefore, is not between law and grace, or even between Judaism and Christianity, since both enter by grace and maintain their status by works. Rather, the dispute is that Gentiles do not have to practice the social distinctions of Judaism (circumcision, Sabbath keeping, and food laws). Finally, for Sanders justification in Paul’s writings is a reference to entering the covenant people.

J. D. G. Dunn

The second key figure in the development of the New Perspective on Paul is J. D. G. Dunn. In 1982 Dunn coined the term “New Perspective on Paul.” He attempts to correct Sanders’s incoherent view of Paul with a more consistent framework. For Dunn justification is not just “getting in” but also “staying in” as well as the future judgment. He explains Paul’s negative comments about the law not in soteriological categories but rather in social categories. In other words, Jewish Christians were misusing the law by forcing Gentile Christians to obey social barriers of Judaism (circumcision, Sabbath keeping, and food laws). Dunn interprets Paul’s “works of the law” in Galatians and Romans not as human attempts at gaining God’s favor but as the “social badges” or “boundary markers” of Judaism. Similar to Sanders, the controversy in Paul was that Gentiles did not have to observe the law to “stay in” the covenant. Thus, Paul was not battling legalism, but nationalism.

N. T. Wright

The most influential advocate of the New Perspective is no doubt N. T. Wright. Wright, the bishop of Durham, is a prolific author and one of the foremost New Testament scholars in the world. While his major work on Paul is forthcoming, he just published a monograph called Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision in 2009 (IVP). This book was in part a response to his critics concerning his New Perspective interpretation of Paul’s doctrine of justification. Specifically, it was an answer to John Piper’s critique in his 2007 book, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T Wright (Crossway).1 In his book Wright not only refutes traditional critics as “geocentrists” (a reference to people who refused to believe in the Copernican discovery that the Earth is not the center of the solar system) but also systematically and exegetically attempts to present his take on justification.

Wright essentially accepts Sanders’s conception of covenant nomism—that first-century Judaism was a grace-based religion and that Jews believed entrance into the covenantal blessings was by God’s grace through faith. To Wright this point has been established and accepted by mainstream scholarship. Concerning the “works of the law,” Wright agrees with Dunn that Paul was referring to Jewish boundary markers such as circumcision, Sabbath keeping, and food restrictions.

Wright, however, breaks with Sanders and Dunn in his overall interpretation of Paul and specifically in what Paul meant by justification. Wright sees the gospel as the announcement of Jesus’ lordship, which works the power of God to bring people into the family of Abraham. Thus, the concept of covenant, (i.e., “God’s single plan, through Abraham and his family, to bless the whole world”) becomes a dominant theme in Wright’s discussion of justification.2

For Wright, justification is not actually part of the gospel (or at the heart of the gospel), but it is in fact a result of the gospel. He argues that justification is a declaration of righteousness but not as understood and articulated by the Reformers (such as John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Thomas Cranmer). He argues that justification is more like an acquittal for a defendant or a vindication of not being guilty. The traditional Protestant view is that God’s declaration of righteousness (i.e., justification) was the result of God imputing Christ’s righteousness to the sinner at the moment of salvation. Wright categorically rejects the imputation of God’s righteousness. He believes it to be a category mistake:

If we use the language of the law court, it makes no sense whatever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Righteousness is not an object, a substance or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom…. To imagine the defendant somehow receiving the judge’s righteousness is simply a category mistake.3

Instead of linking the “righteousness of God” to God’s justice or moral uprightness, Wright believes it is a reference to God’s covenant faithfulness.

Another wrinkle in Wright’s view is that justification is not completed at the moment of salvation, but rather it is God’s ongoing declaration of one’s status in the covenant community. He argues that justification is more a matter of ecclesiology than soteriology. Therefore, justification is initially when a Christian receives forgiveness, but it is then maintained through works and finally completed when the believer is vindicated at the final judgment. Thus, Wright argues for an eschatological dimension to Paul’s doctrine of justification.

What Is at Stake?

The New Perspective on Paul represents a genuine paradigm shift in the field of Biblical studies. It does nothing less than overturn the Reformation. The Reformers’ cry of “justification by faith alone” no longer stands unchallenged in Protestant circles. Specifically, New Perspective scholars reject the doctrine of imputation. Many who hold to the traditional view have recognized that this ultimately minimizes the death of Jesus on the cross.

Closely related to this idea is the very nature of salvation. G. P. Waters correctly contends that New Perspective scholars essentially reduce first-century Judaism and Christianity into semi-Pelagian religions.4 The result is that works become part of the salvation process. Sanders’s charge that first-century Judaism is not legalistic becomes nothing but muddled once we see what the alternative solution is from the New Perspective. Undoubtedly New Perspective proponents confuse grace, merit, and works.

It is interesting to note also that Wright believes this new consensus on justification could well bring a renewed ecumenism to Christianity. The barrier of justification by faith alone no longer stands between the Roman Catholic and Protestant wings of Christendom. He writes, “justification by faith tells me that if my Roman neighbor believes that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead then he or she is a brother or sister, however much I believe them muddled, even dangerously so, on other matters.”5

Finally, the authority of Scripture is at stake. Proponents of the New Perspective are heavily dependent upon their “green screen” background of Paul. In the opinion of some they have elevated this background to the point that it speaks louder than the Scriptures themselves. The Reformers’ cry of sola scriptura is being undermined.

Conclusion

Only time will tell how far reaching the New Perspective impact will be on the church. The battle is still primarily an academic endeavor at this point. But just as Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses eventually transformed the church, so the New Perspective will trickle down into the pews. Today’s professors are training tomorrow’s pastors.

We already see the New Perspective impacting commentaries and background books. Dunn’s and Wright’s commentaries are readily available and could be used naively. In Scot McKnight’s commentary on Galatians in the NIV Application Commentary series his introduction and exposition reflects the New Perspective, but he does not really reveal how divergent his conclusions are from traditional views.

Pastors or lay people who are unaware of this doctrinal deviation could easily use New Perspective writings without even understanding what is at stake. At the very least, pastors and church leaders need to be aware of the ongoing debate and how theology is changing. Many scholars with a traditional view have mounted defenses against the New Perspective, but much more needs to be done.6

To learn more about the New Perspective on Paul, visit The Paul Page. This website contains hundreds of articles, reviews, and books dedicated to the subject.

Notes

1 John Piper, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright (Wheaton: Good News/Crossway, 2007). Interestingly both N. T Wright and John Piper were scheduled to be main speakers at plenary sessions of the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual conference in Atlanta in November 2010. Unfortunately Piper is now on sabbatical and will be replaced by Tom Schreiner, another well-known critic of the New Perspective.

2 N. T Wright, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009), 67.

3 N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 98.

4 Guy Prentiss Waters, Justification and the New Perspective on Paul: A Review and Response (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), 57, 58, 185-87.

5 See N. T Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul,” lecture at the Rutherford House Conference. http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_New_Perspectives.pdf (accessed May 31, 2010), 15.

6 Most notable is the two volume set, Justification and Variegated Nomism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001, 2004) edited by D. A. Carson, Peter O’Brien, and Mark Seifrid.


Douglas Brown has served at Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary since 1999. He has earned BA and MA degrees from Faith, the MDiv from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, WI), and his PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfeld, IL). Dr. Brown is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and has presented papers at ETS meetings. He has served as an associate pastor at Faith Baptist Church (Cambridge, IA) since 2000 and serves as adjunct faculty and Associate Dean at FBTS.

5931 reads

There are 20 Comments

Ted Bigelow's picture

Excellent job here! Trying to summarize the NPP is certainly not for the faint of heart. Great job!

Isn't it also important to make mention that NPP distrusts the view of the Pharisees and their cohorts (Sanhedrin, et. al.) given in the New Testament? Isn't it true that the advocates of NPP view the writings of the Jews themselves of that time period as a better indicator of what the Jews believed and were motivated by than the NT? And of course, the Jewish writings of the day are highly flattering to themselves.

I say this because this fine article says that the Protestant (read Lutheran) view of 2nd Temple Judaism was based on Jewish writings of the 4th and 5th Centuries. Am I mistaken? I thought much of the Protestant view of 1st Century Judaism - as a legalistic religion of self-justification - was based more on the NT than Jewish sources.

jimfrank's picture

In 2003 I took a combined college/seminary class entitled "Culture and Literature of the New Testament." We spent a lot of time reading the Apocrypha and books associated with it. Many of my classmates were thoroughly confused, and the professor's methodology was both confusing and infuriating. We were "studying" the New Testament but spent very little time in it. Apparently this class was the professor's attempt to convert the school from a more-or-less Revised Scofield-brand of Dispensationalism to the newer Progressive Dispensationalism. The professor has since moved onto another school. I don't really know if the school has rejected Progressive Dispensationalism.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

As far as I know, the New Perspective doesn't have any connections with progressive dispensationalism. Another set of questions entirely.
Sounds like maybe you just had a bad prof. But I would think a "Culture and Lit. of NT" class would spend a fair amount of time looking at the apocryphal stuff. It was important "literature" of the period. Maybe they just didn't describe the course very well and gave the wrong impression of what it was about.

Though the NP doesn't have anything to do w/ PD, it does have everything to do w/history of Judaism in the 400 yrs after Malachi and during the time of Christ.

I'll never be a scholar of that era, but it seems impossible to read the gospels in such a way that the Judaism of the day is anything but dominated by legalism (works-salvation).

A. Carpenter's picture

This is not meant to be a defense of N. T. Wright's version of NPP, but I believe he brings something to the table that should not be so readily dismissed. In Justification his reference to "geocentrism" is not a reference to true geocentrists but to a metaphor he uses to argue that the traditional Protestant view is too narrow in scope. In other words, he draws our attention to two possible foci and then argues that one is primary and the other secondary. In terms of the metaphor, we have the sun and the earth, but which one orbits the other? In terms of theology, we have ecclesiology and soteriology, but which is primary when it comes to justification? Wright argues for ecclesiology, while the Reformed argue for soteriology. (Eschatology also plays a related role for both, but I don't need to go in to that right now.)

Here's where I think Wright raises something helpful. In Romans and Galatians, where the battle is most often waged, many who take the traditional approach think that Paul is arguing for sola fide, and I believe he is. However, we do often focus so much on sola fide that we neglect the purpose for which Paul teaches it. Too often we overlook the fact that Paul taught justification for a reason that goes beyond writing good theology. In both churches, there were strong Jewish factions who were tempted to use the law - in a legalistic way, yes - as a sort of cultural barrier that effectively divided the church and undermined the Gospel. The doctrine of justification answers this problem. In other words, I believe that Paul taught the Gospel the way he did in order to sort out and put to rest some very serious intra-church difficulties. He uses soteriology to answer ecclesiology because of the effect that ecclesiology would have on soteriology. They are very closely related, though one is primary. Wright argues that ecclesiology is primary, while we would argue for soteriology.

So, Wright is wrong (I believe, and no pun intended) in his focus, but I think he sees an ecclesiological aspect that we have often ignored. Of course, one doesn't need to look to Wright or other NPP proponents for this. Douglas Moo, for example, sees this quite clearly in his commentary on Romans (NICNT).

Faith is obeying when you can't even imagine how things might turn out right.

JobK's picture

"The New Perspective renders null and void any attempt to portray first-century Judaism as a works-based, moralistic religion." Which means it totally ignores how Judaism, especially where the Pharisees are concerned (and Paul was a Pharisee), is portrayed in the New Testament, including both the gospels and Paul's writings. It rejects sola scriptura in favor of modern agenda-driven scholarship, the hallmark of liberal theology.

"He more or less flattens Judaism and Christianity into equal religions because both are based on covenantal nomism (“getting in” vs. “staying in”)."

Convenient for dual covenant theology, increasingly popular among certain dispensationals (John Hagee et. al). And dual covenant theology opens the door for religious pluralism (many paths to heaven). A heavily accepted school of "moderate" Christian theology asserts that Jesus Christ was indeed born of a virgin and divine, that He did indeed die an atoning death for sins on the cross and was raised from the dead, but that this opens the door to "good people of all faiths." That is Barack Obama's publicly stated position on his personal faith, and (as best can be determined) is also that of George W. Bush.

"The barrier of justification by faith alone no longer stands between the Roman Catholic and Protestant wings of Christendom." Calling Catholicism a wing of Christendom is something that I would disagree. Statements of Luther that there were pockets of legitimate Christianity in the Catholic Church prior to the Reformation notwithstanding, I maintain that Catholicism is a separate religion. So, the new perspective on Paul is just another way of getting to the same goal of "moderate" and liberal Christianity, which is to reject the fact that Jesus Christ is the only way to the father. It is interesting to note that Roman Catholics abandoned this position also, adopting the idea (according to the book "[URL=http://www.amazon.com/Four-Views-Hell-William-Crockett/dp/0310212685 ]Four Views On Hell[/URL ]") that good, moral people who weren't Catholic would receive a temporary period of rehabilitation in purgatory before moving onto heaven. (This applies to the "separated brethren" the Protestants.) I believe that I have read that Billy Graham became ecumenical with Catholics after they adopted this position, and please recall Graham's statement a few years that "he is no longer certain that Christianity is the only way to heaven."

"Wright categorically rejects the imputation of God’s righteousness." So, Romans 4:25 isn't in the Bible? Neither are all those scriptures about being in Christ and identified with Christ and His baptism, death and resurrection? N.T. Wright is a heretic.

"G. P. Waters correctly contends that New Perspective scholars essentially reduce first-century Judaism and Christianity into semi-Pelagian religions." Which is a precondition for religious pluralism. N.T. Wright has simply come up with a more orthodox-sounding veneer for the work of the leading figure of religious pluralism, [URL=http://www.johnhick.org.uk/ John Hick[/URL ]. I feel tempted to use this as an excuse for Anglican-bashing, but I will resist.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

jimfrank's picture

Aaron, you are correct in stating that this new brand of NT scholarship and Progressive Dispensationalism are two different things. But the article spoke of many things I learned in this particular class. There are parallels of thought between the two. In the meantime, a fellow pastor brought me up to speed today about Progressive Dispensationalism, but I'll reserve judgment until I study the subject.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

A. Carpenter wrote:
This is not meant to be a defense of N. T. Wright's version of NPP, ...
Here's where I think Wright raises something helpful.... Too often we overlook the fact that Paul taught justification for a reason that goes beyond writing good theology. In both churches, there were strong Jewish factions who were tempted to use the law - in a legalistic way, yes - as a sort of cultural barrier that effectively divided the church and undermined the Gospel. The doctrine of justification answers this problem.... Of course, one doesn't need to look to Wright or other NPP proponents for this. Douglas Moo, for example, sees this quite clearly in his commentary on Romans (NICNT).

Appreciate your whole post. Doug's article definitely filled in some gaps for me and your post fills in some more.

Quote:
So, Wright is wrong (I believe, and no pun intended)
But I like the pun! Since we live in age where 90+% of people get their beliefs from slogans, this is probably all we need: "Wright is wrong." (How about "Two wrongs do make a Wright"?)
But, seriously, I do expect that like every other smart guy who goes seriously astray, Wright still offers insights along the way. God is gracious!

Quote:
I'll reserve judgment until I study the subject.

I recommend Robert Saucy. I think PD has some big problems (and a couple of things I like), but if you want to understand it, Saucy is a good primary source.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Aaron,

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. No doubt there are theologues who merely view justification as a doctrine to be proved and neglect its influence on ecclesiology. But who are they? I tend to think the whole NPP argument rests on straw man. Really, who actually teaches that justification has little to no effect on ecclesiology?

A. Carpenter wrote:

He uses soteriology to answer ecclesiology because of the effect that ecclesiology would have on soteriology. They are very closely related, though one is primary. Wright argues that ecclesiology is primary, while we would argue for soteriology.

I agree. The correct flow must be Christology, soteriology, and ecclesiology. This is because of Eph. 5:25: "Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her."

"Christ" - Christology
"loved... and gave Himself up for" - soteriology
"the church... her" - ecclesiology.

If there is no Christology, there is no soteriology. If there is no soteriology, there is no ecclesiology.

Wright messes it up, and in so doing, has actually undone Christology. He has made the church a reflection of religious social mores (which are all good), but he has changed the church from being "Christian" - i.e., "little Christs," to "Confessionals" - those who agree to a confession of some kind.

The result upends more than ecclesiology. It robs us of Christ, who was "born of a women, born under the law." He was not borne into Gentile "freedom." He had to die to the law to redeem us from it. Not from Judaism, but from the Law.

Charlie's picture

JobK wrote:

"Wright categorically rejects the imputation of God’s righteousness." So, Romans 4:25 isn't in the Bible? Neither are all those scriptures about being in Christ and identified with Christ and His baptism, death and resurrection? N.T. Wright is a heretic.

Rejecting imputation as such does not make one a heretic. The imputation of Christ's active obedience as a part of justification separate from the forgiveness of sins is a relatively recent theological articulation; even at the time of the Westminster Assembly there were some who had yet to embrace it. Also, Wright does not deny imputation in such a way as to say that the believer does not partake of Christ's righteousness. Since he views "the righteousness of God" primarily as God's faithfulness to his covenant promises, he doesn't think that the idea of "the righteousness of God" being imputed to the believer makes sense in a courtroom metaphor. Rather, he believes (and I would largely concur while still disagreeing with his theology) that what many believers express through the language of imputation he secures through union with Christ. Wright looks to the NT language of Christ being justified at the resurrection, and he concludes that we are justified by being "in Christ," that is, we partake of Christ's justification. So, in his mind, assigning a separate process of imputation would be redundant.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Quote:
what many believers express through the language of imputation he secures through union with Christ.

I think I might be sympathetic to this point, but let me see if I'm understanding the distinctions involved.

In your view (and to an extent, Wright's)
a) Justification is not to declare righteous, but to declare "not guilty"
b) Believers are credited with righteousness because of their union with Christ
c) Believers experience righteousness (ie are gradually transformed) also through union with Christ?

I'm not sure what you mean by "what many believers express through the language of imputation."

Seems to me--in my very cursory exposure to Wright--that the biggest problem there is blurring the distinction between credited righteousness and actual righteousness. Scripture is clear the crediting occurs whole, at one time, granted as a gift (Rom. 4:22-24), while the later is something we move toward until the redemption of our bodies and the arrival of the salvation ready to be revealed at the last time (1 Pet. 1:5). Rom. 6 seems to me to say that both aspects of righteousness come through union with Christ.
2 Cor. 5:21 seems to summarize both the immediate crediting and the eventual complete transformation.

The conservative in me says why do we need a "new" angle on imputation when the old one answers so well to Scripture. But I do also see that the courtroom logic seems to favor "not guilty" vs. "righteous."

Charlie's picture

One problem with Wright is that he doesn't always seem to understand early Protestant theology, which makes his critiques of it a bit off the mark. Without his polemics, though, I would encapsulate Wright's view this way:

1) Christ was justified (declared righteous) by his resurrection
2) All those in union with Christ participate in his justification (as they participate in a creaturely way in all Christ's blessings)
3) The righteousness of God is God's faithfulness that he will indeed justify (vindicate) his covenant people (those in union w/ Christ) on the Judgment Day
4) The primary emphasis of justification for the believer is future-focused, not past-focused, because it looks forward to our acquittal on the Judgment Day
5) Nevertheless, justification is a present reality testified to by the Spirit of holiness, who leads the covenant people into good works that will prove their covenant membership on Judgment Day.

A few comments:

The ecclesiology/soteriology thing is an issue, but probably not as defining as some have made it out to be. By making justification a function of union, and by linking "those united with Christ" to the covenant people, I think I can support "inclusion in the covenant people" as a definition (better, a consequence) of justification, although, I would be much more comfortable placing the ecclesiastical ramifications under adoption, which has clear Scriptural support linking it with the church.

#5 is why Wright can speak of works having a role in justification, which, considering his definitions, isn't as bad as it sounds. I don't think his view of justification is Catholic, but its not high-octane Protestantism either. Richard Baxter's neo-nomianism comes to mind as a possible parallel, but I haven't explored that line very far.

Generally speaking, I agree with many things that Wright affirms; I part ways with him on the things he denies. I affirm that even imputation is a result of our union with Christ; but I do not subsume it under that category without further elaboration.

A few comments more generally about NPP:

1) If you're really committed to a historical-grammatical hermeneutic, then these debates about background really matter. You can't ignore them in favor of dogmatic formulations. That's why Carson's two volume Justification and Variegated Nomism is a great resource; it attempts to deal with the issues and the 2nd temple sources. I'll point out as well Tom Holland's [URL=http://www.thepaulpage.com/contours-of-pauline-theology-a-radical-new-su... Contours of Pauline Theology[/URL ] as a fresh piece of constructive theology that along the way examines and undermines the NPP's use of 2nd temple sources. He's British and his book wasn't all about NPP, so I don't think he's shown up on some people's radars yet.

2) Although we are in a reactionary phase at this point, I hope soon some more complementary solutions can be reached. James Dunn, for one, has [URL=http://www.thepaulpage.com/a-man-more-sinned-against-than-sinning-a-resp... stated that he believes[/URL ] his articulation of Paul's theology strengthens and expands rather than deconstructs traditional Protestant teaching. In the end, we may not agree, but we shouldn't treat him as a Mongolian horde dashing to pillage our provinces. I hope that Wright too will change his attitude toward the Reformers, as he seems to have a habit of attributing the least sophisticated evangelical theology to them. Sustained interaction with the past may yet modify his views.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Dick Dayton's picture

II Corinthians 5:21 does an excellent job of sharing the principle of "double imputation." God "made" "formed into an external shape" (the word is used to speak of the potter and the clay) our Lord Jesus Christ to be "sin for us," our sin offering, so that we might be "made" "transformed into" (used of night turning to day, sorrow turned to joy) the righteousness of God in Him. I take the judicial view, that justification means that a repentant sinner who trusts Christ's blood is declared to have a right standing with God the Father based upon the merits of the atoning sacrifce of Christ.

We can also balance the "works" issue with Ephesians 2:8-10. Our salvation, our forgiveness, is solely based upon our faith in Christ (which is itself a gracious gift from God), but our daily living should demonstrate good works as the evidence of the internal transformation. It is the Matthew 5:16 principle, and the James statement of "prove your faith by your works," as well as Paul's statement that "any one in Christ is a new creation."

After my conversion, my life changed, not in order to hold on to salvation, but as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit taking the Word of God and applying it to my life.

Dick Dayton

Dan Miller's picture

A book review on [URL=http://www.ligonier.org/blog/pierced-our-transgressions/ this book[/URL ] might be interesting. Here's a quote from the website:

Quote:
In Part One, the authors make the case for the doctrine of penal substitution. They begin with a detailed study of the most important biblical texts relevant to the subject. They then look at the whole of Christian theology and seek to demonstrate that the doctrine of penal substitution has a central place. A final chapter surveys the teaching of great theologians throughout church history in order to demonstrate that the doctrine of penal substitution is not a novelty.

Greg Long's picture

Dan Miller wrote:
A book review on [URL=http://www.ligonier.org/blog/pierced-our-transgressions/ this book[/URL ] might be interesting. Here's a quote from the website:
Quote:
In Part One, the authors make the case for the doctrine of penal substitution. They begin with a detailed study of the most important biblical texts relevant to the subject. They then look at the whole of Christian theology and seek to demonstrate that the doctrine of penal substitution has a central place. A final chapter surveys the teaching of great theologians throughout church history in order to demonstrate that the doctrine of penal substitution is not a novelty.
It's a great book. Highly recommended.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Charlie wrote:
One problem with Wright is that he doesn't always seem to understand early Protestant theology, which makes his critiques of it a bit off the mark. Without his polemics, though, I would encapsulate Wright's view this way:

1) Christ was justified (declared righteous) by his resurrection
2) All those in union with Christ participate in his justification (as they participate in a creaturely way in all Christ's blessings)
3) The righteousness of God is God's faithfulness that he will indeed justify (vindicate) his covenant people (those in union w/ Christ) on the Judgment Day
4) The primary emphasis of justification for the believer is future-focused, not past-focused, because it looks forward to our acquittal on the Judgment Day
5) Nevertheless, justification is a present reality testified to by the Spirit of holiness, who leads the covenant people into good works that will prove their covenant membership on Judgment Day.

Part of the difficulty w/the whole NPP thing is that it seems to many of us to introduce unnecessary niceties into what does not really need to be all that "sophisticated." But I do accept the idea that if we are committed to grammatical historical method, we need to sort out the 2nd temple period issues.
I'm glad that task will mainly fall to other people!

But about your post, Charlie, Wright's seeming love for novel language is tripping me up. I want to understand what I'm rejecting. Biggrin
More specifically, how do "2" and "5" above go together? Does "participate in his justif" mean "fully possess as a matter of standing/position before God" or is he talking about transformation into people who are actually righteous in character?
If he is talking about our (gradual) transformation, what does "present reality testified to by the Spirit" mean?

Edit: To boil it down to simple terms: in his view, what do believers already have and what do they not yet have?

Charlie's picture

Aaron, there certainly is some novelty in the positions. But remember, novelty is partly a relative concept. There are plenty of niceties in your theology that seem unnecessary to others, and which would puzzle even Protestants in the mid-16th century. Besides, as a Baptist and a Dispensationalist, you're not really in a position to criticize a theological position just for being late to the game. But, I think Wright's rejection of imputation is actually a simplification of the view. Rather than distinguishing between Christ's active and passive obedience, you just shove the whole category under union with Christ.

For Wright, justification is a covenantal category. (You should also see Volume 1 of Alister McGrath's Iustitia Dei for an exegetical defense of this position.) In the Old Testament, God's righteousness is his faithfulness in vindicating (justifying) his covenant people. Working on that motif, justification is a function of whether or not someone is in the covenant community that God will justify. So, justification has a present component - moving you by union with Christ into God's covenant people and demonstrating the accomplishment of that by the gift of the Spirit - and a future component - we will be justified at the last day. By the way, Wright is clear that justification is a declarative/forensic act. He does not believe that justification means we will be made righteous, and to my knowledge, none of his critics has accused him of such.

Dick, actually what you wrote their is not double imputation. Double imputation would assert that the sinner receives Christ's righteosness not on account of Christ's death (that accomplishes forgiveness of sins, but rather on account of Christ's life of obedience as a man under the law. In the double imputation system, Christ's death takes our sin while Christ's life provides us with righteousness. By the way, I think Wright would argue that 2 Cor. 5:21 supports his view, since it refers to the believer gaining righteousness "in Christ," that is, through union; although, he would have to take a different route to explain what "made the righteousness of God" means.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Charlie wrote:
Aaron, there certainly is some novelty in the positions. But remember, novelty is partly a relative concept. There are plenty of niceties in your theology that seem unnecessary to others, and which would puzzle even Protestants in the mid-16th century. Besides, as a Baptist and a Dispensationalist, you're not really in a position to criticize a theological position just for being late to the game.

True enough. My comments about his novel language were not intended as an argument against him so much as an explanation of why I don't understand him.

Charlie wrote:
But, I think Wright's rejection of imputation is actually a simplification of the view. Rather than distinguishing between Christ's active and passive obedience, you just shove the whole category under union with Christ.
I'm not sure what you mean here. Is "you" me? I don't recall making that particular shove... or are you saying that this is what Wright does?

Charlie wrote:
For Wright, justification is a covenantal category. (You should also see Volume 1 of Alister McGrath's Iustitia Dei for an exegetical defense of this position.) In the Old Testament, God's righteousness is his faithfulness in vindicating (justifying) his covenant people. Working on that motif, justification is a function of whether or not someone is in the covenant community that God will justify. So, justification has a present component - moving you by union with Christ into God's covenant people and demonstrating the accomplishment of that by the gift of the Spirit - and a future component - we will be justified at the last day. By the way, Wright is clear that justification is a declarative/forensic act. He does not believe that justification means we will be made righteous, and to my knowledge, none of his critics has accused him of such.

This helps me better understand what he's saying. What's your understanding of his view of how one acquires union w/Christ/moves into the covenant community and stays there?
You mentioned earlier that you did not agree with his theology. Where do you see the biggest problems? (I believe I caught one in an earlier post: connecting some things w/union that belong w/adoption)

Charlie's picture

Aaron,

To your first question, by "you" I meant Wright. As to my disagreements with his theology, I think most of them can be summed up by saying that his strengths, pressed too far, become liabilities. One of his great contributions to NT scholarship is a conception of salvation that is bound up with the master narrative of Scripture. By identifying Christ as the true Israel (see [URL=http://books.google.com/books?id=AfwahSgBpKYC&printsec=frontcover&dq=cli... ]The Climax of the Covenant[/URL ], he situates the individual believer within God's cosmic plan for Israel, and, I think, enriches our understanding of the scope of certain NT books, such as Romans and Galatians.

However, the Abrahamic covenant in his thought tends to crowd out the Adamic. The doctrine of imputation rests, in part, upon an understanding of Adam as righteous yet intended to mature in righteousness through learning obedience (parallel Christ). Humans were not intended for an Edenic state, but an even better one. Adam swerved off course, thus denying to humanity its intended destination. Christ, then, has a twofold work: not only paying for our sins (which gets us back to the garden, so to speak), but winning the state of mature righteousness that Adam did not, so that by union with him we are able to possess that state. So, my understanding is that union with Christ grounds imputation, whereas for Wright union replaces it.

Second, I think that justification, through adoption really, results in covenant membership; for Wright, justification constitutes covenant membership. I think there is an oversimplification of categories there.

Third, his definition of the "righteousness of God," seems to me exegetically founded, but perhaps a bit too restrictive. I would like to think that the phrase could have more than one meaning, especially when considering that Protestant theology insists that it is not the righteousness of God simpliciter, but the righteousness of Christ as a man, that God imputes to believers.

Fourth, despite E. P. Sanders, the picture of second temple Judaism is far from complete. Some of the claims made about it are, in my opinion, insufficiently substantiated.

Finally, if Wright were more careful in reading his earlier Protestant theology, he would find that some of his concerns aren't that original at all, but were recognized in the 16th and 17th centuries, where they were handled with even more care.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Ed Vasicek's picture

You can read my 2005 review of Justification and Variegated Nomism here:

Quote:

New Challenges of Justification By Faith, August 9, 2005
By Edward J Vasicek, Kokomo, IN

This review is from: Justification And Variegated Nomism (2 Vol. set) (Paperback)

Volume 1 addresses the various (variegated) views held by the Jews during the second temple period about the relationship of the Law (nomism) to salvation (justifcation). It focuses on the era before and right after the time of Jesus. Understanding the views of this era help us with understanding the background of the New Testament.

D.A. Carson, one of today's greatest evangelical scholars, has elicited the help of many scholars, some evangelical, others not; he is the editor of the two-part series, but most of the material is provided by the illustrious contributors. The overall purpose of this two volume set is to refute the "Covenantal Nomism" (the view that "you get into the covenant by grace, but you stay in it by keeping the Law") of E.P. Sanders. It also seeks to refute the "New Perspective" as to what Paul the Apostle really meant when he spoke of salvation "apart from the Law." Volume one shows that Sanders erred: there is no one view that dominated all Jewish thought before the time of Christ (or shortly thereafter). Volume 2 then completes the project by demonstrating that the "New Perspective" may be "new," but it is not correct. The Reformers really did know what they were talking about.

But whether you are debating the "New Perspective" or not, you will find Volume I rich! You will sharpen your understanding of the thinking of the Jewish world from about 200 B.C. to about 100 A.D. You will delve into the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, etc.; those who want to better understand the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith will also appreciate this volume.

Volume I is not intended for the average layman, but a trained pastor can understand this work Although a few parts are dry, other portions are absolutely fascinating.

Does Volume I accomplish its goal? Absolutely.

Volume II, "The Paradoxes of Paul" address the issue, "Did Paul really believe that one entered the covenant by grace (accepting Christ as opposed to Jewish birth) but then maintained his status in the covenant by keeping the Law?" The clear answer of this volume is "no." We enter by grace and we are kept in the covenant by grace.

A team of mostly evangelical scholars proves that "the works of the Law" refer not merely to the boundary markers of Judaism (circumcision, etc.), but even to keeping the 10 Commandments. When Paul talks about salvation "apart from the works of the Law," he is saying more than, "apart from becoming a Jew." He is saying that the Law is good, but when used in an attempt to be justified, the Law cannot deliver. We are saved by grace through faith; God justifies the "ungodly," not the law keeper.

The authors, all respected scholars, take us back to the clear teaching of Scripture. If we look at Paul without a pre-existing template, they argue, we find that law keeping has no (positive) bearing on salvation because no one can keep the law. Paul concludes us all "under sin." Although obeying God evidences our forensic justification, it does not accomplish it.

As Moises Silva points out, "Indeed, faith is by definition the abandonment of our works and efforts so that we might rely solely on divine grace..."

The various essays take us through the theological portion of Romans and Galatians with a few stops in Philippians 3.

Besides addressing the issue of salvation by grace through faith in contrast to salvation by grace and works, the authors also address the nature of the atonement, the very real wrath of God that is directed toward mankind, and both the continuity and discontinuity in Paul (before and after his conversion). They also address whether he really was converted or just received a specialized calling.

With great scholars, like Mark Seifrid, Douglas Moo, Peter O'Brien, and D.A. Carson (among others), these essays are well done and devastating, I would suppose, to Covenantal Nomists.

On the negative side, because each chapter is an individual essay, there is quite a bit of repetition within this work.

Also worth mentioning is that this work is not intended for the layman. One could probably get by without Greek, but the reader needs at least a modest theological background, I would think, to follow these arguments.

This is edited by D.A. Carson, and, in my opinion, thoroughly answers and refutes the New Perspective.

I would add some more comments based upon my Jewish Roots studies:

1. The word "justification" as used in the Jewish sense usually refers to "vindication," being proven in the right before men. This is how James uses the term.

2. Paul's use of the term is more forensic (legal).

3. Much of the New Testament's teaching of justification and imputed righteousness are midrashim (plural of midrash) from Zechariah 3, IMO. Here is the text from which Paul's teaching about justification and Paul and John's teaching about Christ being our advocate/intercessor stem. Note in the Zechariah passage how Joshua is clothed in white:

Quote:
1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. 2 The LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?"

3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 4 The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes."
Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you."

5 Then I said, "Put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.

6 The angel of the LORD gave this charge to Joshua: 7 "This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.

8 " 'Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. 9 See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,' says the LORD Almighty, 'and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.

10 " 'In that day each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree,' declares the LORD Almighty."

4. The Jews at the time of the New Testament had DIVERSE beliefs about salvation, justification, etc. Even within the two main schools of Pharisees, Bet Shammai said gentiles could not be saved unless he became a Jew while Bet Hillel said if a gentile believed in the one God of Israel and agreed to live under the covenant of Noah (Gen. 9), he would be saved. And that was just a division within the Pharisees. When you bring in other groups, the spread gets broad.

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Charlie... your last post extremely helpful to me.
Ed: appreciate that also.

Looks like study of the 2nd temple Judaism has a long way to go. There is trouble enough in Wright but it looks to me like the bigger problems will come from how he is used by others who are even less concerned about the great time-honored doctrines of imputation, full and permanent justification by faith alone, etc.

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.