Is the New Perspective on Paul Heretical?

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josh p's picture

While there may be some useful considerations from the NPP it is far more of a threat than a blessing. The guy wants to have his cake and eat it too but it's laced with arsenic. He may claim to reject the worst parts but if you confuse Paul on justification you missed the gospel. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Yes. I've said it before, but the understanding of justification by faith alone recovered during the Reformation wasn't broken and doesn't need fixing, or even tweaking.

AndyE's picture

Michael Bird wrote:
Paul’s point in places like Galatians 3-4 and Romans 1-4 was that Gentiles do not have to become Jews in order to be Christians.

This is like saying the point of a NASCAR race is a fast pit crew.  It is true that Gentiles don't have to become Jews in order to be saved but that is hardly the main point of the passage.

The NPP tries to make righteousness and imputed righteousness about covenant membership [Per Bird, "Paul is here giving a preview of the 'A.D' period by talking about Gentiles who have experienced the renewal and blessings associated with the new covenant, and their obedience is such that they will have circumcision (i.e. covenant membership) imputed to them!"] Yet when Paul talks about "blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from work" (4:6), he then explains what he means by quoting David, "blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin" (4:8).  So, righteousness is a declaration of not being guilty of sin -- not having sin laid on one's account and instead having Christ's righteousness laid on his account -- not covenant membership.  So NPP is heretical on at least two scores -- misunderstanding of justification/righteousness and downgrading the importance of Christ's imputed righteousness.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Andy, I agree with you completely on this one. Bird wrote:

Paul’s point in places like Galatians 3-4 and Romans 1-4 was that Gentiles do not have to become Jews in order to be Christians.

That is the crux of the entire issue. What was the true understanding of 2nd temple Judaism with regard to justification and salvation? This is the dividing line. I don't think Paul's point was that the Galatians "do not have to become Jews." His point is that the legalistic oral Torah which the Jews had built on top of the law had resulted in a perverted system of works righteousness, and it was that pseudo-religion Paul was arguing against. He wasn't against the Law, and wasn't arguing the Gentiles didn't have to become Jews. He was arguing against the perverted form of the Judaism of his day - and Jesus' day, too. Look at Peter's astonishment that Gentiles could actually become children of God (Acts 10); the reason he found this so hard to accept (and the folks in Jerusalem, too - Acts 11) was because they'd been indoctrinated by their racist, legalistic upbringing (characteristic of Judaism at the time) to believe Gentiles were defiling and despicable people. I've read what the Mishnah has to say about Gentiles, and the ceremonial washings Jews did to "cleanse" themselves (and their eating utensils) from Gentile contamination (cf. Mk 7). How awful. This was the context for Galatians.

I have a new book by Robert Cara about NPP in my Amazon cart. I need to buy it soon. I really want to understand this topic better. I've never seen any warrant for it; I believe you have to have a special sort of hermeneutical glasses to see things the NPP way. Or, perhaps, I'm not scholarly enough . . . Smile

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

AndyE's picture

I do find that some of the terminology of the NPP is helpful.  For example, if I have it right (and there is a chance I don’t) the NPP highlights Jewish “Identity Markers” (e.g., Circumcision, Sabbath/Feast keeping, Dietary Laws) and “Intentional Obedience” as necessary to maintain inclusion in the covenant.  Well, those two ideas roughly correspond to the two things Paul mentions in Romans 2:17 – “If you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God.”  There were Jews who thought they were OK based on their relationship to the Law (i.e., Intentional Obedience) and their covenant relationship to God (i.e., Identity Markers and especially circumcision).  Paul deals with both of these boasts, let’s call them “works of the Law”, in Romans 2:18-24 (relationship to the Law) and Romans 2:25-29 (Identity Marker of circumcision).  In both cases, the problem is that the Jew breaks the law (2:23, 25) and thus nullifies any benefit from doing these “works of the law.” 

So, when Paul concludes in 3:20, “that by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight”, I think he has both of these “boasts” in mind. Neither the conscientious maintaining of Jewish Identity Markers nor the Intentional Obedience of the Law is sufficient to be righteous before God. For the Gentile, it’s that same -- neither becoming a Jew by incorporating the Jewish Identity Markers, nor Intentional Obedience to the law written on their hearts will result in their justification.  To me, it’s helpful to think through the passage in these terms.

Where the NPP goes wrong is by equating righteousness with being in the covenant (and tying that so directly with the Jewish Identity Markers) rather than equating it with meeting the full demands of the Law. Justification really is how one becomes a true member and beneficiary of the covenant promises of God. It is not (as per NPP) just declaring that one is a member of the covenant. It’s declaring that one is truly righteous (based on the imputed righteousness of Christ through faith), even if he does not have the Jewish Identity markers or good works/law keeping.