In an excellent piece for Christianity Today entitled “What Did Paul Really Mean?” (thanks, Filops!) Simon Gathercole called attention to the way New Perspective scholars interpret the phrase “the works of the law.” He writes:
According to the new perspective, Paul is only focusing on these aspects of Jewish life (Sabbath, circumcision, food laws) when he mentions “works of the law.” His problem isn’t legalistic self-righteousness in general. Rather, for Jews these works of the law highlighted God’s election of the Jewish nation, excluding Gentiles. Called by God to reach the Gentiles, Paul recognizes that Jews wrongly restricted God’s covenant to themselves.
Gathercole’s comment matches Dunn a little more than Wright, but neither scholar thinks “works of the law” means the achieving of merit through religious deeds. Certainly we can say it is doubtful if many Jews in the Second Temple period were “legalistic” in the sense that they truly believed their works were good enough. But they were still going about to establish themselves by the law:
(Read part 1.)
“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (Gal. 3:10)
From what has been said already we may view the NPP as an attempt to adjust Christian understanding of the way First Century Jews saw themselves in relation, first to God and second to the Gentiles. To God they apparently did not think, like the Reformers believed they did, that they could earn merit with God. Instead it is claimed, they held that by grace they were in the grace covenant which assured national blessing to Israel. Hence, by observing the rites and solemnities of circumcision, Sabbath observance, kosher practices, etc., they were showing fidelity to the covenant. Hence, when they read “works of the law” as in Gal. 3:10 above, the Jews understood it to mean these exclusivistic observances.
Reprinted with permission.
The influence of this movement is increasing within evangelicalism, and I believe many people are in the dark about it. The subject is important also because we tend to view Scripture through the lens of the Reformation instead of the other way round. Although the Reformers got the gospel right, their successors have sometimes appealed to them and not the Bible. At least the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), whatever its merits or demerits, has directed us back to the Bible again.
The so-called “New Perspective on Paul” would be better called “New Perspectives on Paul.” But in whatever variation, and whatever its problems, the New Perspective offers an important and robust challenge to traditional Reformation views of justification and Pauline theology. I should say that I do not dismiss everything the New Perspective has to say. While I am completely in agreement with the Reformers on justification by grace through faith, I am not ready to “throw the baby out with the bath water.”
Used with permission from Theologically Driven.
The blogosphere has been humming lately with questions of Christian freedom and Christian depravity, the role of faith and works in sanctification, the priority of law or Gospel in sanctification, and the like. Some have seized the “Gospel-Centered” banner and have used it to wage general war on law and works—after all, they argue,
So what’s wrong with the syllogism? Well, the logical structure is fine, so if an error is to be found, it has to be in one of the premises. In this case, it is the major premise. The gospel is not reducible to the forensic reality of justification. It also includes the experimental reality of regeneration. Together they comprise what the Reformers described as the duplex beneficium of union with Christ—two distinct benefits received simultaneously in the Gospel. And whenever we minimize either of these benefits, the Gospel disappears:
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CHAPTER VI. JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH.
BY H. C. G. MOULE, D. D., BISHOP OF DURHAM, ENGLAND.
“Justification by Faith”; the phrase is weighty alike with Scripture and with history. In Holy Scripture it is the main theme of two great dogmatic epistles, Romans and Galatians. In Christian history it was the potent watchword of the Reformation movement in its aspect as a vast spiritual upheaval of the church. It is not by any means the only great truth considered in the two epistles; we should woefully misread them if we allowed their message about Justification by Faith to obscure their message about the Holy Ghost, and the strong relation between the two messages. It was not the only great truth which moved and animated the spiritual leaders of the Reformation. Nevertheless, such is the depth and dignity of this truth, and so central in some respects is its reference to other truths of our salvation, that we may fairly say that it was the message of St. Paul, and the truth that lay at the heart of the distinctive messages of the non-Pauline epistles too, and that it was the truth of the great Reformation of the Western church.
From Faith Pulpit, Summer 2012. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
How is a person justified before God? That was the question that ignited the Reformation. Beyond that foundational question, theologians have debated additional questions, such as “What is the importance of justification in relation to the other benefits of salvation?” and “Where does justification fit logically in relation to saving faith?” In this article Dr. Myron Houghton, senior professor and chair of the Systematic Theology Department at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, guides us in an in-depth consideration of these significant questions.
To answer these questions about justification, we must first explore the exact nature of justification. Theologians have held two main positions: infusion and imputation.
At the time of the Reformation, Catholics and Protestants differed greatly in their understanding of justification and grace. The Catholic position defined justification to include all of the benefits of salvation, making it a process. Grace was understood as a God-given ability to do good works which was infused into the person. This Catholic view is sometimes described by the words, “Christ IN us.”